Analysis: How important is the CCL title to Seattle and MLS? And what’s next for Sounders?


The strangest part of the historic moment Sounders FC created on Wednesday is how much the CONCACAF Champions League title is misunderstood when it comes to its place in the sporting landscape.

“It’s unique for American sports,” Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said. “There is nothing like it. It’s complicated, but I think it’s super cool. This idea is happening all over the world, in South America with the Copa Libertadores, in Europe and in Africa and Asia. Hopefully over time our fans will learn to appreciate it, understand it and embrace it like us football nerds.

Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz’s brace led the club to a 3-0 win over Pumas UNAM in the second leg of the CCL Final at Lumen Field on Wednesday. The 5-2 aggregate score, after a 2-2 draw in the first leg last week in Mexico City, was enough to crown Seattle the 2022 regional champion – a first for the Sounders and an MLS team since the tournament was redesigned to its present form in 2008.

Seattle being the creator of United States history might be the best scenario for the growth of soccer in America. The Sounders have enough proven successes and likable aspects to push the sport forward.

CONCACAF CEO Philippe Moggio’s mission is to cultivate “long-term sustainable growth for football in this region”.

For this to happen, not only must the quality on the pitch be superior throughout the region, but even the casual football fan must know the hierarchy of the sport. For example, no one in the United States would equate the Super Bowl with the Fiesta Bowl, even if it’s two bowls.

“We are very happy with how this competition has progressed,” said Moggio, noting that the CCL will grow from 16 teams to 27 next year. “To grow this, we need to continue to grow our competitions, grow our fanbases and grow our business programs.

“To have a growing club competition that takes place every year and to ensure that the teams that take part in it understand the importance of this competition, that it paves the way for qualification for the Club World Cup of the FIFA, it really helped us to continue to increase the visibility.”

With all the cups and tournaments, it can be difficult to realize the importance of each. There’s the Heritage Cup awarded only between the San Jose Earthquakes and Sounders dating back to 1974, when the two were part of the disbanded North American Soccer League (NASL). The Cascadia Cup is given by groups of supporters of the Pacific Northwest clubs, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Portland Timbers and Sounders. The next level in the case of the trophy is the US Open Amateur Cup and then the MLS Cup.

A higher echelon for a club in this region is the Champions League title, which grants a place in the FIFA Club World Cup – the highest level a club in the world can achieve.

The Sounders are the first to clinch a place as the UEFA Champions League will crown Liverpool FC or Real Madrid as winners on 28 May. Champions League.

“We’re going to face Real Madrid or Liverpool in a real game,” a euphoric Garth Lagerwey, president of football and chief executive of the Sounders, told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s why you do it. It’s incredible; it’s just. I would love to be really cool and calm and be like, ‘ah, that’s okay’, but that’s a big deal. … I want to make this (MLS) one of the best leagues in the world and if we can do that, we can play meaningful games against these teams.

Destination unknown

FIFA announced plans in 2019 to expand the Club World Cup knockout format to 24 teams, including the host nation, and to play in China in the summer of 2021. The pandemic canceled the start of a revised tournament, but maybe not the concept.

According to recent reports from The New York Times and Sporting News, the world governing body has made no decision on if or when the 2022 champions of the six traditional confederations will face off for the trophy.

‘No idea’ is what a text message to The New York Times read regarding the future of the Sounders’ Club World Cup.

If there are bets to be made on the prestigious tournament, put the money on Lagerwey trying and succeeding to force a release to happen – even if Seattle is to host the event. That would be a bummer because not only would the accommodation technically make the Sounders a potential automatic qualifier anyway, but the allure of sneaking into this swanky party is an international trip to play the heavyweights of the world.

Seattle has previously hosted English Premier League powerhouses Manchester United (2011) and Chelsea FC (2009, 2012) and La Liga giants FC Barcelona (2009) at Lumen Field for friendlies (exhibition matches). Each of these teams has won at least one Club World Cup.

The event would still be a spectacular spectacle given that the teams would surely face their stars for most of the 90 minutes (Lionel Messi was substituted in the 46and minute when he scored a brace for Barcelona in the 4-0 shutout against the Sounders). But the Sounders organization offering the full experience of a massive world tournament they’ve never played in is unrealistic. The Club World Cup will already be used to prepare for the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup, should Seattle be named host city.

FIFA will not hold the Club World Cup in December as it has done in the past because of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Chelsea won the 2021 Club World Cup title in February in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates due to a changed schedule amid the pandemic.

Hanauer is unsure when FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup cities in the United States, Mexico and Canada. There were several representatives at Wednesday’s CCL game.

“What we’re assuming is that the decision is coming in weeks or weeks; it could be 100 weeks or four weeks,” Hanauer said. “We want the World Cup in Seattle. We really do and we think we’re in a great position to do it and our fans (Wednesday) put an exclamation mark on that.

The Sounders plan to raise a CCL banner in the rafters of Lumen Field on July 9 when the team hosts Portland.

Injury Update

Wednesday’s crushing loss was Sounders midfielder Joao Paulo suffering from what is believed to be a torn right ACL in the first half against the Pumas. The possible season-ending injury would make the team’s goal of also winning the MLS Cup much more difficult.

The Brazilian was an MVP finalist last season. He recently received his US green card, so he can stay in Seattle with his young family while rehabilitating the injury like forward Jordan Morris did last year.

The FIFA transfer window is closed. Sounders midfielder Jordy Delem joined full training in March after tearing his ACL and a decision has to be made whether or not he will be signed. He plays in the same position as Joao Paulo.

Sounders left-back Nouhou suffered a bruised thigh, which coach Brian Schmetzer did not consider to be of concern. Seattle returns to MLS with a road game against FC Dallas on Saturday and the first-choice starters weren’t expected to play due to the quick turnaround.


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