The Seattle Sounders’ participation in CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) has been a regular occurrence since the team joined MLS, qualifying for the ‘10-11, ‘11-12, ‘12-13, and ‘15-16 editions. The team has largely used the U.S. Open Cup to gain entry to the regional competition, although their regular-season finish in 2011 and Supporters’ Shield-claiming 2014 would have also earned them qualification. If they want to join the ‘17-18 competition, however, their only option left is to win MLS Cup.
For the ‘17-18 competition United States teams are allocated four spots, three of which are guaranteed to be MLS teams (the Canadian teams are required to fight for their country’s lone allocated spot through the Canadian Championship). These four spots are given to the MLS Cup champion, the winners of each conference during the regular season, and the U.S. Open Cup (USOC) champion. Should a Canadian team occupy any of the three possible positions through MLS their spot is given to the US team next highest in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
Previous seasons have seen qualification for both participants of the MLS Cup final, but that changed to the current routes starting in 2014.
Already qualified is FC Dallas (winner of both the Western Conference and USOC), New York Red Bulls (Eastern Conference champions), and Colorado Rapids (taking the spot vacated via Dallas qualifying twice). That means that, despite showing a ridiculous propensity for getting crushed by massive margins, that the next team up is New York City FC by virtue of their third overall finish. Seattle’s only way of getting in, then, is to hoist the MLS Cup high.
Sounders have a great history showcasing the team and league’s quality in CCL. They very nearly became the first U.S. team to win in Mexico (they beat Monterrey a couple weeks after FC Dallas beat Pumas UNAM), and they were the first to beat a Mexican side in the knock-out stages of CCL. Seattle’s CCL matches have also produced mythical goals by Djimi Traore, DeAndre Yedlin, and Clint Dempsey.
CCL is usually one of the wildest parts of the Sounders’ seasons each time they participate. It gave us a post-penalty melee (that was sparked by Evans taunting the opposing goalkeeper, who responded by throwing the ball at his opponent). Herculez Gomez scored two goals as part of a 6-1 drubbing by Santos Laguna; the following year, the current Sounders forward received a pillow from Hanauer just so he’d shut up on Twitter.
CCL’s biggest competitive value, however, is almost certainly the additional allocation funds given to participants by MLS. There’s little doubt these have been a critical part of the team’s success in all parts of their seasons, allowing them to hold on to, and bring in, high level talent. While no one outside the front office is certain the amount given, it is certain that when the team squares off against Toronto or Montreal on Dec. 10, more than just the MLS Cup will be at stake.