By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK -- Reaching the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals and beyond is serious business to Major League Soccer, so serious that the league gave its three quarterfinalists the weekend off to prepare for the second leg of their respective series.
Only one MLS side has reached the confederation semifinals -- Real Salt Lake, when the team lost to Monterrey in the 2011 final.
This year's three clubs -- the Seattle Sounders, Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy -- have similar ambitions of going beyond the final eight.
Those three teams have positioned themselves to have a fighting chance to book a semifinal berth with promising results in the quarterfinals' opening leg.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said he and his team understand the historical implications if multiple MLS teams reach the semifinals and beyond.
"It's something that gets mentioned, but it's not something that we lay our whole preparation around," he said. "I think they know it is important for us as a league. It has been a while since a U.S. team has won this tournament, obviously has never won this in the new format. It's just a matter of us getting one step further."
As it turns out, Schmid guided the Galaxy to the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup crown, but never had an opportunity to participate in the 2001 FIFA Club World Championship, which was postponed.
Seattle and Houston are facing Mexican teams for semifinal berths and eliminating such a rival would be a big deal.
"Those are all steps forward," Schmid said. "I think the major thing you see as evidence is that five years ago when an MLS team came down there to play a Champions League game or whatever, maybe you get 3,000 [fans]. Now they have a stadium of 35,000. So they take it a lot more seriously now. Overall, the respect level for each other's teams is much enhanced of what it was. So for us win and move on in this series would move would just further grow that level of respect."
The Sounders, who host Tigres UANL at CenturyLink Field on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, appear to have the most difficult task since they dropped a 1-0 road decision in Mexico last week.
Schmid was pleased that his team did not allow the deficit to go beyond one goal, keeping his side within striking range. If he has to do any motivating at this stage, however, his players might be in the wrong business.
"I will say to a team and players: if it's more important to me than it is to you, then we won't have to talk at all," he said. "It's got to be important to them. I think it's more important to them. They know what it means -- it's a berth in the semifinals of the Champions League. That's going to take a good effort. We've got to get the healthy bodies on the field, guys who are fit, guys who can play with a lot of energy and who can play with quality."
Tigres solidified its lead in Liga MX with a 2-1 victory over last-place San Luis as Lucas Lobos and Luis Garcia tallied.
Houston needs only a tie at last year's runner-up side, Santos Laguna in Torreon, Mexico on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET after securing a 1-0 home-leg win on a Brad Davis goal last week.
The Dynamo enters the match with a 9 win, 4 draw and 7 loss record against Mexican club teams, but has never won on Mexican soil. The MLS club has a draw and three losses there.
Forwards Omar Cummings and Calen Carr are nursing knee injuries that kept them out of the first leg and both are not expected to be available for selection Wednesday night.
While the MLS teams were not in action, the Mexican clubs were. Santos extended its unbeaten streak to four games in Liga MX behind a 2-1 triumph over Atlante on Saturday. Los Guerreros were paced by goals from U.S. international striker Herculez Gomez and Mexican Olympic hero Oribe Peralta.
After battling Herediano to a scoreless draw in Heredia, Costa Rica, last week, LA needs a win in its encounter in Carson, Calif. at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday. The Galaxy must balance pushing forward without leaving its back line vulnerable to counterattacks.
Both teams had the weekend off, so the coaches will have plenty of fit and healthy bodies at their disposal.
Any tie other than a scoreless draw would boost Herediano into the semifinals because under the competition's tie-breaking procedures, the team with the most away goals would advance to the final four.
Likewise for the Seattle-Tigres and Houston-Santos series. If any of the three series cannot be decided in extra time, the winner will be determined by penalty kicks.