Imagine a sport that only plays once or twice a week. Where the action in the stadiums amongst the fans is boisterous, where pre-game isn't a party, but a community event.
Imagine that through competition, you actually know who the best team in the league, in the nation, in the continent, in the world is. There aren't guesses. There aren't formulas and polls, there are winners and losers. A sport where a tiny team from Tunisia can compete amongst the world's best from Mexico, Argentina or Japan.
This is soccer, or football, or futbol, or qurat al-qadam.
Sorry, that's the Cameron Crazies
Soccer, is more than stat lines, it is the layered competitions of teams from Stoke City greeting the big boys from Manchester or London.
Part of the appeal of the beautiful game is the way that it is the event and pageantry of the NFL, with the crowd activity of college football/basketball with both the Cinderellas and Finality of NCAA basketball but with the title of best in the world on the line.
Next year there will be several layers of competition for Sounders FC and this is meant as a primer on those
1 - Preseason Tournaments
Carolina Challenge Cup
Pan Pacific Championship
La Manga Cup
We don't know if Seattle will be invited to any of these, but in my ideal league there would be a handful of these scattered around the nation, to include a Cascadia Cup. These tournaments can help expose more people to the sport and give a little bit of meaning to games that are otherwise useless.
2 - League Play
For 2009 there will be 15 teams in an 8 team Western Conference and 7 in the Eastern Conference, but 30 games will be played. The schedule will be released in February, but we do know that all MLS teams will play each other at least once during the season. The League recognizes the regular season winner with the Supporters' Shield in recognition of their success over the 33 week regular season. The top two teams in each Conference as well as the next best four teams will make the playoffs. The Shield winner advances to the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).
3 - SuperLiga
This tournament is relatively new and is basically an exhibition between the Mexican Premiera and Major League soccer. The next best four teams that do not qualify for the CCL. There are two groups of four teams that play home and away matches to advance to the semifinals and finals. The winner does not advance to other tournaments.
4 - US Open Cup / Canada Championship Cup
The Canada Championship will be determined in home/away games between Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. The winner advances to the CONCACAF Champions League.
The US Open Cup is a tournament where even amateur sides can take the field vs. the top level pros in the nation. The USL Sounders have been to the Semifinals the last two years, but an MLS club has one the title all but one year since the league started. This Cup competition has teams face their opponent once and the winner advances. Teams issue bids in order to host the round, and often MLS clubs play on the road up until the Final. The winner advances to the CONCACAF Champions League.
5 - MLS Playoffs
The top 2 teams from each conference and the next best four teams will participate in the 2009 version of the playoffs. The first round is a home/away facing, where as the Conference Finals and the MLS Cup Final are one off events. The winner and second place team advance to the CCL.
6 - CONCACAF Champions League
This is a 24 team competition amongst the best teams from around North America, Central America and the Caribbean. There is a Qualifying Round, followed by the Group Stage and then the quarters/semis and Final.
The best team in Canada (CCC winner), the US Open Cup winner and the second place team from the MLS playoffs are set into the qualifying round whereas the MLS Supporters' Shield winner and the MLS Cup Final winner are automatically seeded into the Group Stages. The winner of the CCL will advance to the World Club Cup to face the best from every continental region in the world and team representing the host nation. The first tournament that Seattle Sounders FC could qualify for would be in 2010.
I have placed these tournaments in ascending order of prestige/importance at this time. Through 2009 you will see SSFC in MLS league play and US Open Cup action. Based on their success we might see them in SuperLiga or the CONCACAF Champions League, but one thing is for certain it won't be determined by the BCS, but by their play on the field. On a Tuesday in May we might play against the Cascade Surge and that Saturday against the reigning Columbus Crew with their double (Shield and Cup).
Only one team is the best, and they proved it on the pitch.