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CONCACAF Champions League is the only way MLS can prove its quality

Yes, concurrent tournaments can be confusing, but the biggest trophy on offer right now is the CCL.

Monterrey  v Real Salt Lake Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

After Brian Schmetzer used a heavy rotational lineup to open the 2018 MLS season, there was much debate about the series of choices he made. When the Seattle Sounders lost, those decisions were even more greatly under fire.

In some ways the debate, in general, sits on two sides. Those that love global soccer and are therefore used to the concept of concurrent tournaments (domestic league and continental championship in this case) and those that follow soccer because they love Seattle and/or Puget Sound. For many in the latter group all that matters is winning the league. For the first group there is usually a hope that the Sounders can be that team from MLS that demonstrates quality in direct competition with Liga MX greats.

Because the Sounders are now on a mainstream sports radio station, the debate featured on Twitter Sunday. It will likely be part of the conversation throughout the week.

Usually when talking to my former co-workers about these decisions, I point out the similarity to what happens in college basketball. While the tournaments do not run at the same time, many hoops squads compete for several trophies in a season (preseason tourney, regular season, conference title, NCAA/NIT/CBI). For smaller conference teams, the ability to face giants is vital. They need to do that both in out-of-conference matches, both preseason and during their regular season, in order to prepare for their NCAA tournament dreams.

This is also true for the Seattle Sounders. Friendlies against teams throughout CONCACAF can only go so far. It is the CONCACAF Champions League where they can truly test their mettle.

Yes, Seattle qualified for the current CCL all the way back in 2016, and it is an odd scheduling quirk that forces them to compete in early 2018 for that title, but this CCL contest is the equal of a team like Gonzaga trying to win the NCAA.

Now that the Sounders have an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield and four Open Cups there is little more to prove, outside of establishing a dynasty, which would be cool. One of the rare, fresh territories available is to win the CCL.

But the CCL is about more than just the Sounders. It’s about the league showing its quality. Don Garber once said that by 2022 MLS would be a top league in the world. Right now it is not the top league in CONCACAF, let alone this hemisphere.

The only way to make those leaps forward in more than a theoretical basis is to win games like the one on Wednesday, and then win the next leg, and then win the next series and the next series.

That’s why Brian Schmetzer rested players in the 1-0 loss. It’s why Roman Torres only played a half, why Chad Marshall and Clint Dempsey didn’t play at all, and why Wolff’s first extended run will be against Chivas.

Hanauer, Roth & Co have grand goals for this organization. One of those goals is to be a signature club in the US and recognized throughout the world. Beating Chivas de Guadalajara is a step towards those goals, especially with its more than 40 million fans.

It may be frustrating and confusing to see stars rested during the regular season for a supposedly lesser tournament. CONCACAF Champions League is not a lesser tournament. It is the grander event that a maximum of five MLS teams can qualify to participate in. It faces the grandiose teams in the continent, ones with five or six generations of fans. LAFC got their glory, but Seattle’s potential glory is much larger than an opening night win, and its only possible if they play nearly perfect for 180 minutes against one of Mexico’s two best teams.

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