CCL Match Preview: Tigres UANL vs. Seattle Sounders
Throughout the week, MLSsoccer.com will bringing you the lowdown three CONCACAF Champions League series involving MLS teams. This time around it's the Seattle Sounders vs. Tigres UANL. Check here for a breakdown of the Houston-Santos Laguna series and come back Thursday morning for preview of the LA Galaxy's quarterfinal against Herediano. For a refresher on the CCL, be sure to check out our primer on the quarterfinals.
Seattle Sounders outlook: The Sounders got off on the wrong foot in 2013, falling 1-0 to a defensive-minded Montreal Imapct side in their season-opener. The good news is that one key absentee from that match – Osvaldo Alonso – will return to the lineup, a vital addition ahead of such a tough game.
There will be some questions about the attack after the team’s failure to score at home against Montreal, but some crisper finishing and the knock-on effect from Alonso’s return could be all the tonic they need.
Tigres UANL outlook: Tigres remain unbeaten and on top of the Liga MX nine games into the Clausura 2013 tournament, but have slowed down somewhat. After a rip-roaring start to the season, where they rattled off four straight wins, they have drawn three of their last five games.
Furthermore, they lost leading scorer Emanuel "Tito" Villa (eight goals in eight games) last week and subsequently managed one goal at home against middling Morelia last weekend. Still, they possess a potent midfield in their standard 4-2-3-1 shape, solid defense, and capable backup forwards in Alan Pulido and Luis García, and will keep the Sounders more than busy over two legs.
Seattle Sounders player to watch: There is little doubt as to this one: Osvaldo Alonso. The Cuban will have to draw upon every ounce of the ability that has made him one of the top defensive midfielders in MLS to lead the charge in shutting down Tigres’ fearsome center midfield trio of Lucas Lobos, Jose Francisco Torres and Carlos Salcido. If he can effectively disrupt Tigres’ possession game, it would be a big step in the right direction for Seattle.
Tigres UANL player to watch: Opposite Alonso will be Lucas Lobos. The veteran Argentine is your classic-string puller, possessing great vision and ability on the ball, not to mention a solid goalscoring record. If his influence can be minimized, the Sounders should be able to prevent the kind of blowout they suffered in last year's 6-2 loss at Santos Laguna and in turn give themselves a shot at an improbable series victory.
Matchup to watch: Outside the midfield, where much of the game will be decided, it will be interesting to see how Seattle's forwards stack up against a Tigres defense that has conceded two goals in a game only twice in its last 15 showings across all competitions. Eddie Johnson struggled in front of goal in the season opener and will have even fewer chances against Tigres, meaning a big improvement is needed from him for Seattle to have a chance. Sammy Ochoa's size and experienced playing in Mexico could provide potential twists to a matchup against a defense whose two center backs, Hugo Ayala and Brazilian dead-ball specialist Juninho, average 5-foot-11.5 inches, not small by any means, but slightly more so than many MLS defenses.
Prediction: There are no two ways about it: Tigres are simply stacked. Even if they are not quite at the pace they started the season at, it is hard to envision them recording anything other than a comfortable win at home, making sure of advancement even if the Sounders manage to keep it close in the second leg at CenturyLink. A best-case scenario for the Sounders would be to keep it close in Monterrey and nick a goal if possible to make sure the tie isn't efffectively over in one game.