By Michael Lewis
SEATTLE -- Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid hopes that his team will apply a lesson or two it learned from the last time it played away against a Mexican team in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
It was only one year ago that the Sounders entered the second leg with a 2-1 lead, only to be soundly beaten by Santos Laguna, 6-1.
On Wednesday night, Seattle visits Tigres in the first leg of the quarterfinals in Monterrey, Mexico, hoping that history won't repeat itself.
Asked what lessons he learned, Schmid replied, "Not to take six goals. Number one, we've got to be smart about what we do. We've got to play a little bit maybe how Montreal played against us at our place. Not that defensive, but we've got to play with good experience and not cough up the ball. Be solid, make sure we keep the ball in front of us, be patient, realize that its a two-leg series. To be honest, we have struggled in two-leg series."
Schmid brought up that series with Santos and how Seattle was eliminated in the MLS conference semifinals the last two years.
"We've got to know that OK, we're away from home in the first leg," he said. "If it's 1-0, it's got to stay at 1-0. It cannot go beyond that. That's the biggest thing for us, not to get caught up in the hoopla and the energy of the game and all of a sudden lose our focus. Hopefully, there's enough maturity on the team now that won't happen."
Schmid realized his team can ill afford a similar start against Tigres as it showed in its Major League Soccer opener on Saturday.
The Sounders, who entered the season on a high note after capturing the Tucson Desert Diamond Cup with a perfect 4-0-0 record, were sluggish early on and they paid dearly in a 1-0 upset loss to the Montreal Impact at home. They have 33 league matches to bounce back; they don't have that luxury in a two-leg series where every goal, if not every play, counts.
"Any time you get slapped in the face like this, hopefully you rise from that and you become a little more determined, a little more motivated and a little more focused," Schmid said. "That's something we have to be in the Champions League and next league game.
"This maybe is a good little wake-up call for us."
Schmid was confident his team will regain last season's form that made Seattle one of the most respected MLS sides.
"This team will bounce back," he said. "There's enough quality in the locker room, enough pride in the locker room."
But playing an established and quality club such as Tigres, away in Mexico, is a different challenge than taking on a second-year expansion team with a new coach in the friendly confines of your own stadium.
Tigres (6 wins, 3 draws, 0 losses for 21 points), coming off a 1-1 home draw with Morelia on Saturday, hasn't dropped a match in the Liga MX Clausura season as it leads Atlas (6-1-2, 20) by a point.
"It's a difficult opponent and a difficult place to play in Monterrey," Schmid said.
"We're a proud team. There's a lot off proud guys who are disappointed and will come back."
Midfielder Mauro Rosales was hopeful as well. "We want to go there and make one of the best games we can," he said. "We want a positive score over there and pass through to the semifinals."
With Tigres in mind, the Sounders played second division side Veracruz to a scoreless draw in a friendly in Tucson, Ariz. on Feb. 22. Schmid said it gave "us some good talking points as to what we can expect when we play Tigres."
That was right before the Diamond Cup final. The Sounders' success in the pre-season tournament against other MLS teams certainly made for great expectations. Then came the Montreal loss.
"Maybe that's from having a good pre-season," Schmid said. "You're a little complacent."
Against Tigres, that is something no team can afford to do.
Most of the cast that helped the Sounders to a third-place finish in the Western Conference has returned, though they lost striker Fredy Montero (13 goals), who was loaned to Colombian club Millonarios, and veteran central defender Jeff Parke, who returned to his hometown team, the Philadelphia Union.
German midfielder Christian Tiffert was cut by the club as it seeks another designated player.
They added one of best defensive midfielders in league history, one-time Grenada international Shalrie Joseph, in a trade with Chivas USA, and flank midfielder Lamar Neagle in a deal with Montreal.
Schmid said that Joseph was "a player that has proven himself to be a leader in game situations and a player of his quality can only help us be a better team."
Another addition is defender Djimi Traore, a UEFA Champions League winner with Liverpool in 2005.
Seattle will host Tigres in the second leg on Tuesday, March 12.