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Toronto FC-Sounders Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- The Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC haven't kicked a ball in MLS play yet, but both clubs have experienced celebration or frustration already in 2012.
The Sounders are looking to re-establish their status as title contenders, while Toronto is trying to carry its stunning momentum into the league when the teams meet at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night.
Seattle is reeling after exiting the CONCACAF Champions League in the quarterfinals with Wednesday's 6-1 loss to Santos in Mexico. That came a week after showing promise by winning 2-1 at home to advance.
"We have to look at why we started the game slowly, why we started the second half slowly," coach Sigi Schmid told the team's official website Wednesday. "I have to look at that and see what I can change to make sure that doesn't happen."
That didn't happen often last season, as the Sounders went 18-7-9 to finish second in the Western Conference while winning a third consecutive U.S. Open Cup title. However, they were eliminated in the conference semifinals of the MLS playoffs on a 3-2 aggregate by Real Salt Lake, failing to advance for the third consecutive season.
While that may be seen as a disappointment, Toronto enters 2012 in search of its first playoff berth after five seasons of poor play. The club didn't even come close to qualifying last year, finishing 13 points out of the postseason cutoff at 6-13-15.
That's precisely why it comes as a major surprise that Toronto has advanced to the semifinals of Champions League after beating reigning MLS champion Los Angeles on 4-3 aggregate following a 2-1 road victory Wednesday.
Toronto will meet Santos later this month.
"This is a long way to come so far," said coach Aron Winter, who is in his second season. "The whole team has done a great job. If you watch both games that we've played, we earned to go further."
Carrying that success into MLS will be key. Toronto has dropped four of five season openers and is 1-4-1 all-time against the Sounders, going 0-2-1 in Seattle.
Winter may be hoping that Ryan Johnson can begin changing that. The forward had a goal in each of the two legs against the Galaxy after scoring four in 53 league games over the last two seasons with Toronto and San Jose, a far cry from his career high of 11 set in 2009 with the Earthquakes.
Danny Koevermans is expected to provide consistent scoring punch after scoring eight goals in 10 games after being acquired last summer.
In the midfield, captain Torsten Frings and Julian de Guzman are expected to play vital two-way roles.
Seattle also boasts an array of attacking talent, starting with forward Fredy Montero, who led the team with 12 goals while setting up nine others last year.
Mauro Rosales is expected to be the link to Montero as the playmaking midfielder. His 13 assists last season were third in MLS and earned him the league's Newcomer of the Year Award while also gaining consideration for MVP.
Rosales' importance to the Sounders was clear in the playoffs last year, when he was sidelined with a knee injury.
The biggest change for the Sounders comes in goal, where Michael Gspurning replaces the retired Kasey Keller. Gspurning spent four seasons with Skoda Xanthi in Greece after spending his first six in his native Austria.
Updated March 16, 2012