A lot of time has passed since April 9, 2013. It’s been almost a decade since Santos Laguna faced the Seattle Sounders, knocking them out of the 2012-13 Concacaf Champions League 2-1 on aggregate. Like most of the rest of us the teams have matured, shedding old ways and becoming more modern versions of themselves.
“Seattle is no longer an expansion upstart,” says Dave Clark of Sounder At Heart via an email conversation we had (lightly edited for clarity). Since the last time the clubs met, “the Sounders have won another (US) Open Cup, their first Supporters’ Shield, and two MLS Cups (also appearing in two more MLS Cups). In a league where parity dominates, (head coach Brian) Schmetzer and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey have broken the league.”
While there have been times where the Sounders looked invincible, there’s a slightly more muted bravado now. “This season,” Clark says, “they are barely in the hunt for the Shield, and remain MLS Cup betting favorites. Raúl Ruidíaz could win the MVP and is the strong favorite for the Golden Boot. Unlike most MLS teams, the organization doesn’t just say they want to win Leagues Cup, they field lineups capable of competing.”
The Leagues Cup may be a priority for Seattle, but that doesn’t mean there are a lot of expectations. “Winning the Leagues Cup while falling out of home field for the playoffs would be bad for the organization,” Clark readily admits. “Many fans would rather the club take this less seriously than they are. Left-side center back Nouhou has another idea. After the 1-0 win over Minnesota United on Saturday he sad ‘Let’s win Tuesday and go to Vegas,’ which to be honest sounds like a lot of fun.”
While this is a team that likes to have fun, make no mistake: they can not be taken lightly. “This is as strong as the Sounders have ever been,” says Clark.
Nouhou is a name that might not be familiar to Liga MX fans like former Monarcas Morelia striker Raúl Ruidíaz, but Clark thinks he is one of the best on the team. “The real strength comes at the left and right center backs, where both Nouhou and Yeimar could be MLS Defender of the Year.“
Tactically, Seattle plays much like Santos does. “Seattle runs a 3-4-2-1 these days. Raúl (Ruidíaz) is up top with some combination of Uruguayan Nicolás Lodeiro, Colombian Fredy Montero (yes, the Sounder from way back), and United States National Team player Cristian Roldan underneath.” Unlike Santos who lost starting goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo, “(Seattle) goalkeeper Stef Frei just returned to play after missing time with a knee injury and blood clots. In his six starts, he hasn’t given up a run of play goal.”
And the similarities don’t start or stop there. On September 9 the Sounders and Orlegi Sports announced a strategic alliance, starting off with a community soccer rally and vaccination clinic. When I asked Clark about what Seattle stood to gain from this partnership, he quipped “More reasons for the two owners to write off their trips to Cabo?”
“More seriously,” he continued, “the goal here has to be as a way to learn outreach towards the Puget Sound and Washington State Hispanic community. A continuing expansion of the Sounders work in youth soccer, academies, and marketing through the knowledge that Santos Laguna has will be wonderful.”
And while there are reasons to dismiss the Leagues Cup, this might be the best reason for the clubs to take it seriously. The combined outreach from Orlegi and the Sounders, both of whom who have a track record of community projects, can hopefully create positive changes in both Washington State and La Comarca Lagunera.