By Don Ruiz
The News Tribune
There could be crabgrass on the pitch tonight when Sounders FC resumes CONCACAF Champions League play against CD Marathon at Estadio Olimpico in Honduras.
It probably won't influence the result of the game, but it does indicate that the Sounders are becoming more experienced international travelers.
This is Seattle's third season in this tournament of clubs from North American, Central American and Caribbean nations, and it's the second time grouped with Marathon. The previous pairing came in 2010, when the clubs split, each winning at home.
That trip was a new experience, part of Seattle's first international tournament.
Now there are 10 Sounders who know what to expect on this trip because they've taken it before.
"They had a ton of energy down at their place," defender Patrick Ianni said, recalling the Sounders' first match at Marathon. "They had fast players out wide. It was a tough game down there for us, and I expect it to be a battle. If we go in with that mentality we'll be all right: just always expect a battle."
It could be that no Sounder knows more about Marathon than midfielder Mario Martinez, whose hometown is San Pedro Sula and who was signed on loan from Real Espana, a Honduran league rival of Marathon.
"It's not going to be an easy game," Martinez said through a translator. "Marathon is a big team. It's one of the best teams in Honduras. I'm looking forward to it. ... Now I'm wearing the Seattle jersey, and I'm going to play my hardest for Seattle."
The Marathon roster has turned over almost completely since 2010. But even beyond the typical scouting-report issues, the Sounders now have a sense of familiarity with even the smallest of details, which they lacked last time.
"There's a track around the field," Ianni said. "... I just remember there being crabgrass on the field, so I'm prepared for that. ... And if I remember right, the field is not lit so well. That's all I'm expecting – and probably some good fruit to enjoy while I'm down there. They always seem to have good food down in Central America, so I'm looking forward to that, too."
Meanwhile, coach Sigi Schmid and his coaching staff have been trying to learn what they can about the current Marathon squad.
Part of that is comparing results with their common opponent in Group 4. The Sounders swept Caledonia, winning by identical 3-1 scores in Seattle and in Trinidad. Meanwhile, Marathon played to a scoreless draw in its visit to Caledonia.
"We've got about four games on tape that we're looking at right now, so we'll give them more information," coach Sigi Schmid said Monday, after the Sounders' final local training session. "They've got a good wide left midfielder. They've got a good central midfielder. They play through a lot. They have a couple of strong forwards – not necessarily big, but really robust, strong-type guys. They're a good, solid team. The coach is the same coach they had in 2010 ... so they're pretty similar in their playing style."
A Sounders win would send them through to the CCL quarterfinals. A draw or loss would leave the Group winner unsettled, with one match remaining: Marathon's return visit to Seattle on Oct. 24.
That rematch coincides with the final week of the MLS regular season, so the Sounders would like to render it meaningless by settling things tonight. However, Schmid left some key players such as Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert in Seattle and said he must also balance the MLS match against league-leading San Jose on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
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