By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Sounders rookie Cordell Cato doesn’t know much about Caledonia AIA even though he grew up in the club’s home country of Trinidad.
Neither does Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, even though Caledonia is his club’s opponent when it opens CONCACAF Champions League group play tonight at CenturyLink Field.
“They’re probably (the CCL opponent) that we’re going into the most blind because they are not in their season yet,” Schmid said. “They are in their preseason; they haven’t really played games. They’ve changed their roster, so they’ve got different personnel than they had. We’ve seen certain clips of past games that they’ve played, but a lot of those are with players that aren’t on the team right now. So we’re in the midst of gathering information.”
In that quest, the Sounders have turned to some of the same resources available to casual fans: the Internet, YouTube, word of mouth.
One person who can’t provide much help is Cato, the 20-year-old Sounder who joined the team from Carenage, Trinidad,.
“They’re from my homeland,” he said. “I really don’t know much about them — just a couple of players on their team. They did win some of the cups in the local league back home, so that’s about it.”
Caledonia qualified for its first Champions League appearance by winning the 2012 Caribbean Football Union Club Champions Cup. This year, it won three out of five domestic titles: the First Citizens Cup, the FA Trophy and the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield.
The club was founded in 1979 in the city of Malabar. It won the Trinidad and Tobago Cup in 2008.
“(In Trinidad) the main thing is you try to keep the ball, you try to pass the ball, maintain possession and build from there,” Cato said. “Definitely they’re going to try that. As I said, I don’t know much about the team. They’re just from my home, but I’m going to be as new to the team as everybody else.”
One thing the Sounders know for sure is that every game in group play has heightened importance in this competition. Under a reworked format, the 2012-13 CCL begins with eight three-team groups, with each club playing the other home and away. After those four games, only the top finisher in each group moves through to the quarterfinals.
This is the Sounders’ third CCL appearance. In their first try, they didn’t get out of group stage. Last season, they made it to the quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by Santos Laguna of Mexico.
“If you look at last year when we played against Santos, certainly the win at home was a good confidence-booster for us, and the game down there was a big learning experience for us as well,” Schmid said. “But if we could have gotten past that game, matched up with Toronto, gotten to the final: That would have been a huge thing for our club. So this is the beginning of that journey, and being recognized in our region is very important for our league as well.”
“Winning MLS Cup is certainly highly important and a high priority for this team,” he said. “But in terms of international soccer and international recognition, being able to win the Champions League is going to bring you the most awareness of all the trophies we play for.”
Honduran midfielder Mario Martinez will join the Sounders on loan from Real Espana. Martinez, 23, is playing for Honduras at the London Olympics. He also participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He will join the Sounders after the Olympics and will be added to the roster pending receipt of his P-1 visa.