Even when he was with Real Salt Lake, Garth Lagerwey preached the "trophies, not friendlies" mantra. Although the Seattle Sounders will be playing a friendly this year, it will have that ethos in mind.
The Sounders will face Club Tijuana, colloquially referred to as "Xolos," on March 24 at 7 p.m. Both the date and the opponent were picked to prepare the Sounders for CONCACAF Champions League.
"If winning MLS Cup is the club's No. 1 goal this year, winning Champions League is goal 1a," Sounders General Manager Garth Lagerwey told Sounder at Heart. "If you want to do something that's literally never been done or achieve a historic accomplishment, you have to be committed. You can't just talk about it, you have to do it. This is the first concrete step that we are taking toward attempting to win Champions League.
"It's a critical piece to both get our players familiar with the style of play, but also the mentality and tactics of top-flight Mexican teams. If we're going to hoist that trophy in 2016, it starts now. It's a long journey and it's really difficult, but playing games like this gives us a chance."
Xolos is actually one of Mexico's youngest teams -- having been founded in 2007 -- but have quickly become one of its elite sides. Since earning promotion to Liga MX in 2011, Xolos have claimed a league title (2012), advanced to the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores (2013) and to the semifinals of CCL (2014). They currently sit second in the Liga MX Clausura standings, just one point behind Cruz Azul and are the league's top scoring team.
It also didn't hurt that Lagerwey had an existing relationship with Xolos, who played a friendly against Real Salt Lake last year.
"They were good and fair to deal with, but they're also a very good team," Lagerwey said.
Xolos have also become known for recruiting Mexican-Americans, with United States international Joe Corona being among their longest tenured players. Other notable Americans include right back Greg Garza and forward Paul Arriola. Their academy, which recruits heavily in Southern California, reportedly has about a dozen Americans, as well.
Tapping into some of Xolos' recruiting acumen is an added benefit to staging this game -- which will be preceded by a match between the two clubs' academy sides at CenturyLink Field -- but make no mistake about the main goal.
"If you really want to dream big, you've got to do things that are hard and take a long time," Lagerwey said. "I just want to stress that in order to take the fan support and culture we have and turn it into real advantages, we have to do things like this. It takes a 13-month commitment.
"We have the opportunity to do something historic and do it in a way that really matters for the trajectory of American soccer in the world. You cross into hubris pretty quickly there, but I don't see it that way. If you approach it humbly and look at the resources are here, I think we accomplish great things. Xolos is Step 1 toward accomplishing one of those big goals."
When asked specifically about #trophiesnotfriendlies, Lagerwey was clear.
"100 percent and 100 percent that I've owned that phrase, however pirated it was," he said after being informed about the term's origins. "I believe it firmly and absolutely. The best friendly for this soccer team is one that makes this team better. I think this will prepare us to win trophies, absolutely."
The game will be part of season-ticket packages.