It’s a reality: A Major League Soccer club is the champion of Concacaf.
Seattle Sounders FC won the 2022 Concacaf Champions League, the competition that provides the best club in our region the opportunity to play in the FIFA Club World Cup and bragging rights at least for a year. The Sounders’ 5-2 aggregate victory over Pumas UNAM on Wednesday is a VERY big deal. Not only for the club, but for the entire league. No other MLS team has won the competition since the new format in 2008. They are, officially, the best team in the Concacaf region.
Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders deserve every bit of praise for this achievement. They have done what most other clubs haven’t done. And no, I am not just talking about winning the title. I am talking about showing an importance to winning this tournament. Let me be clear: This is bigger than MLS Cup, Open Cup, and the Supporters’ Shield. I will give you my opinion on that another day. This time, I’ll just point to how consistent Seattle have been since coming into the league in 2009. Now they finally have their hands on another piece of hardware that many other teams didn’t care to try to win.
The first ones to really go for it
I played in the Concacaf Champions League in 2019 after winning the US Open Cup in 2018 with the Houston Dynamo. At the time, we were a club that did not spend too much on players, and while we had a competitive team, it was not built to win an international tournament. The Concacaf Champions League simply was not a priority for us in 2019. Much like it isn’t for many clubs that reach this level, though I will say that the Toronto FC squad in 2018 should have won it!
If MLS clubs want to be talked about in the same breath or even a superior one to Liga MX clubs and earn more respect, then why not go all out in trying to win the Concacaf Champions League every year? Will your league form dip slightly at the beginning of the MLS season? Probably. Will you have a hill to climb once the final is over? Most likely. But isn’t it worth it? The answer, as provided by the Sounders last night, is yes. Definitely.
It’s worth sacrificing the first part of the domestic season for a chance to compete in a FIFA Club World Cup. What we need now is for the clubs in the competition to not see it as a sacrifice but more as a challenge. Winning this trophy will undoubtedly bring more global exposure to the club and to MLS. More importantly, as players, you want to play against the best and compete in the most meaningful matches.
This win says so much about the Sounders organization and their desire to win every competition they are in. Give them credit. The team is well balanced from back to front. They added a great deal of quality with Albert Rusnak and have multiple players in contention to play in November at the World Cup in Qatar. They have every domestic trophy in their cabinet and now they have added the most important one. Winning is their culture.
What happens next?
Now the question is: Will the floodgates open with clubs in MLS trying to emulate what the Seattle Sounders accomplished? I’d like to say yes, but I am not that optimistic. Until other MLS clubs see the value in winning this tournament, sadly it will continue to be “one-offs.”
It’s hard for me to believe that this is the start of a new era in the Concacaf Champions League for MLS clubs, especially when a Mexican team has appeared in every final since 2008 (2005 if you count the old format). I think the individual player is getting better as far as quality in the league, but I’m not so sure about the ambition of the clubs. The talent coming out of Concacaf right now is improving but that needs to be followed by a collective ambition across organizations.
The whole Concacaf region needs to get better as well. More resources need to be given to other countries outside of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. How else can other clubs raise the level of their domestic football in our region if there is no support? We can just say MLS needs to be more competitive in this tournament, but we can also look at the bigger picture and say the whole region needs to keep improving.
Growth and a bright future ahead
MLS has taken amazing strides in growing the game in the US and Canada. There is zero debate in that. I remember arriving at PSV and Manchester City and I can’t remember one time that any of my teammates asked me about MLS or what was it like to play there. They wanted to know about life in the States and if it was the same as seen on TV. At PSV, Mark Van Bommel used to call me “McDonalds” or “hamburger” all the time. That was the focus. There was no mention of MLS or soccer.
Fast-forward 10 years to when I played in Mexico with Puebla and almost every teammate was asking me about MLS. They wanted to know about the quality of the teams, how the stadiums were and the overall landscape of soccer in the US. I always joked and told them that if they did go there, they definitely would get paid on time.
My last year with the Houston Dynamo, we played against Club América in the Leagues Cup. I had a player from América come up to me during the game and ask me to help him get to MLS. There was a pause in the match, and he came up and said “hermano, mándame a la MLS” (brother, get me to MLS). I didn’t think I heard him correctly, so I said “que?” and he said it again. I asked him “en serio, quieres salir del America” (Do you seriously want to leave Club America?), and he said yes.
We had played against each other many times at the national team level as well as when I was with Puebla. That was definitely different and unexpected. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, so I just smiled and said “claro que si” (Sure, of course).
Players from all over the world now want to come and play in MLS. There is no secret that the league is growing rapidly and with the World Cup in 2026 coming to the US, Mexico and Canada, the league will only get bigger and better.
I hope that clubs in MLS prove me wrong and that Sounders’ CCL accomplishment isn’t the last time we see an MLS club lift the trophy.