Initially, the Sounders warmed one step closer to playing for a first ever Champions League title. Then the Sounders were hit with a cold blast of reality in Torreón, Mexico on Wednesday.
After winning their first leg in CONCACAF Champions League on March 7th, 2-1 over Santos Laguna of Mexico, the Sounders looked to be in good shape for advancing from the two leg series. A win in Mexico and it was on to the Semifinals vs the winner of LA Galaxy vs Toronto FC.
At half time of the second leg, 135 of the 180 minutes completed in the 2 leg series, Sounders and Santos were level 3-3 on aggregate. But a cold blast of Mexican soccer superiority chilled the Sounders into letting 4 goals slide through in the final 45 minutes, putting their current Champions League run into icy extinction
Up North a bizarre soccer climate-change took place for Toronto. After their first leg with the LA Galaxy, the 2011 MLS Cup Champions, the score was level 2-2. But LA had scored two away goals. So, playing at home in their California warmth, a 0-0 second leg would advance the Galaxy. With all the big $ money signings by LA, Juninho, Beckham, Donovan, Edson Buddle, and Irish international striker Robbie Keane, Toronto was sure to be schooled. Galaxy ownership even went so far as to make it clear that now is the time for their “international branding”.
Aron Winter, the Toronto FC manager didn’t get the LA superiority memo. He employed a 3-6-1 (three fullbacks, stacked six in midfield, and 1 up top) formation vs Bruce Arena’s Galaxy. That further made people certain, that with only three questionable quality backs, Toronto was doomed. LA offensive power was penciled in for a certain 3 goals netted on the night.
Toronto frustrated LA. The Galaxy never found their decisive and dominant scoring touch. Even when Irish sensation, Keane got in on goal one v one with Toronto keeper, Milos Kocic, Keane’s touch was turned away cold.
The Dutch are known for their famous “total football” history. They are the best soccer country in the world to never win a world cup. Their football is Barcelona football. No country has shaped the tactics of international football more than the Dutch. Short on international glory, they are high on understanding, creativity, and confidence. They are “Total Football”.
Aron Winter used his tactical Dutch background, and what appeared to be a misty, potent-less 3-6-1 formation into LA and walked out 2-1 victors (4-3 aggregate). They move on to face Santos Laguna in the semifinals.
Has Toronto suddenly risen as a power?. Are they the hidden Yetti from the North? A warm and cuddly exterior, but monstrous ability to rip apart the best of MLS?
Crushed, the Sounders have to recover quickly. They host their MLS season opener tonight at CenturyLink against that same ecstatic Toronto FC.
The 7pm match will be weather effected from showers, to near freezing, to wind, to snow, or some mix of all. Usually a sure Sounders advantage. But Aron Winter has his squad warmed to the intent of quietly knocking any opponent aside. His overachieving Toronto squad is already adjusted to the Pacific timezone and their heart-of-champions mentality is unshaken and warmed to anything the Sounders throw at them.
They knocked off the MLS Cup Champions, LA Galaxy. They smashed the Galaxy brass international branding attempts. They turned Canada on top of US in boasting MLS Champions League success for now. So, knocking out Seattle on opening day in front of 40,000, probably sounds like a fun Disney theme ride to Aron’s Dutch thinking Canadian Club.
The pressure will be on heavily favored, and heavily tasked Sounders Manager, Sigi Schmid to once again find an answer. He has precedence here. He’s found those answers before. An impossibly packed August, 2011 schedule was turned into the Sounders most successful month with 7-wins, 0-losses, 1-draw. But Sigi has also been at the helm of the Sounders three disappointing MLS Playoff runs, and an opening day loss to LA Galaxy 1-nil last year.
Can the Sounders warm to Toronto’s winter blast? Or is Toronto the surprise of MLS 2012?
© 2012 Sales on Sounders by Ryan Sales