UPDATE: Real Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0 in the UEFA Champions League final on May 28. If the tournament were to follow the old format, the Sounders would be one or two wins away from potentially playing them.
Cairo’s Al Ahly faces Wydad Casablanca in the African Champions League final on Monday, while the Oceania champion won’t be decided until summer and Asia may have to send last year’s winner Al Hilal SFC of Saudi Arabia.
For as long as the Seattle Sounders have been talking about their aspirations to win Concacaf Champions League — something they finally did on Wednesday in front of nearly 69,000 fans — it has been discussed with a connection to the Club World Cup. Traditionally, winning CCL comes with an invitation to the annual tournament that features the winners from each of the six FIFA confederations. Most notably, it promises teams from “smaller” confederations the opportunity to play a “meaningful” match against the true heavyweights from Europe and South America.
Although a date, location and format for the next Club World Cup are all still undecided, the Sounders insist they’ll be participating, albeit with lots of caveats.
“It’s a dream come true,” Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said with almost child-like glee. “We don’t have a format, we don’t have a location. We’ve been told probably February-ish, probably Middle East, maybe.
“But we’re going to play Real Madrid or Liverpool, man. In a real game. Not for giggles against their reserves, for a real trophy. Like, this is what you do it for. It’s ... it’s just amazing. It is. I’d love to be real cool and calm, ‘ah, it’s no big deal’ but it’s a big deal.”
Lagerwey has been consistent about his desire to play in the Club World Cup, sometimes almost framing CCL as more of a qualifier for that tournament than an achievement in its own right. But hearing him talk on Wednesday gave that framing device a bit more context.
“I always get asked, ‘Do you want to go to Europe?’” he said before answering his own question. “I want to grow the American league. I want to make this one of the best leagues in the world. If we can do that, we’ll get to play meaningful games against these teams. You’d be surprised, the World Cup is coming in 2026. There is no limit, there is no sky, there is no ceiling. We can do this.”
Before they can do that, though, FIFA needs to figure a few things out. The New York Times confirmed all this uncertainty in a story this morning, and cast even more uncertainty than had already existed.
As you may know, FIFA voted in 2019 to revamp the Club World Cup by moving it to a once-every-four-years event instead of one held annually. The field would be expanded from seven teams — a club from the host country is also included — to one that features 24 teams, three of which would be from Concacaf. The first of those new Club World Cups was scheduled to be held in 2021 in China, but those plans were scuttled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the last two years, the Club World Cup has been played under the old format, contested in the Middle East and held in February. But with the actual World Cup getting moved to November-December and causing havoc with club schedules, it’s unclear if room can be made on the calendar again in early 2023. In any case, FIFA officials have pointedly not committed to anything.
Whenever the Club World Cup does resume, however, the Sounders are expected to play. It just might not be for a few more years.