When American forward Herculez Gomez signed with Santos Laguna in December, the odds of him going up against MLS competition were pretty strong considering the club drew the Seattle Sounders in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
An injury to a starting striker combined with his latest run of form means that another special night for Gomez may be in the cards at CenturyLink Field when his side and the Sounders do battle in the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal tie.
In the night's other quarterfinal, a pair of MLS teams do battle against each other when Toronto FC hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first leg of their series. The match will be played under the dome at Rogers Centre in front of more than 40,000 fans and is being billed as the most important match in TFC's brief history.
Here's a closer look at Wednesday night's CCL matches:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS VS. SANTOS LAGUNA
TV: 10 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel/Telefutura
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Seattle finished second in Group D, going 3-2-1 and falling to Monterrey in the final group game to settle for runner-up; Santos Laguna topped Group B, going 4-1-1, including two victories over MLS' Colorado Rapids.
THE MATCHUP: With starting forward Darwin Quintero out injured, Gomez has stepped up with goals in consecutive games for Santos Laguna and is on a trademark hot streak as he prepares to take on his one-time coach when he played in MLS, Sigi Schmid.
Santos Laguna is about way more than just Gomez, too. Between Mexican international striker Oribe Peralta, Ecuadorian attacker Christian Suarez, former Barcelona midfielder Marc Crosas, Panamanian centerback Felipe Baloy and veteran Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, there's talent from front to back for Santos Laguna, which is currently three points off the pace through nine games in the Mexican Clausura.
Seattle, debuting its new third kit, will look to emerge from the preseason in top form to take the advantage, or at the very least give itself a chance, heading into the return leg in Mexico. While Gomez is a feature attraction in this match, it could also mark emergence of another one-time U.S. national team forward. Eddie Johnson, who returned to MLS after a disappointing multi-year voyage overseas, could make his debut for the Rave Green, who commence another season with high expectations. Another debut to keep an eye on is that of Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who gets his first taste of meaningful action as the successor to Sounders legend Kasey Keller.
TORONTO FC VS. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
TV: 8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel/Telefutura
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Los Angeles won Group A, going 4-2-0 and winning a tiebreaker with Morelia and Alajuelense to finish in first; Toronto finished second in Group C, going 3-2-1 and defeating FC Dallas 3-0 in the final group game to seal a place in the knockout round.
THE MATCHUP: In many ways, it's CCL crown or bust for the Galaxy, who have raised the bar for themselves even higher after an historic 2011 season that ended with the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup making their way to the Home Depot Center. By bringing back David Beckham and Juninho, re-acquiring Edson Buddle and adding them to a side that already boasted the likes of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Sean Franklin, Los Angeles puts forth the most star-studded side that MLS has had in the CCL. On paper, the Galaxy are poised to become the second MLS team in a row to reach the tournament final after Real Salt Lake came so close to winning it all last year.
Standing in the Galaxy's way is Toronto FC, a team bent on earning respect and one that will play in front of a raucous home crowd. After combining an uneven MLS season with a late surge in the CCL group stage, Toronto is an intriguing, and perhaps least-assuming, entrant in the quarterfinals.
TFC's front line of Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata and Ryan Johnson will look to exploit the one area of doubt that Los Angeles has — its central defense. With Omar Gonzalez out and Andrew Boyens likely to step into his role, it will take a team effort to shut down the lumbering and physical Koevermans and keep the hosts off the board.
TFC will be a bit shorthanded, as Designated Player and midfielder Julian de Guzman is suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation in the group stage. New midfield signing Marcelo Sarvas is unavailable for the Galaxy, as he is cup-tied to Alajuelense after playing for the Costa Rican side in the group stage.
Who do you see winning tonight's CCL matches? Excited to see Gomez go up against MLS competition?
Share your thoughts below.