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Little known about next Club World Cup, but Sounders plan to participate

Date, location and format have not yet been formally announced.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Editor’s note: We’re treating this as a living document. We first published it shortly after the Sounders qualified for the Club World Cup in late May but it has been updated several times since. The most significant updates since then are a few more teams have qualified, they’ve narrowed down the possible dates (Feb. 1-11) and the latest reports suggest it will be held in United Arab Emirates.

For as long as the Seattle Sounders have been talking about their aspirations to win Concacaf Champions League — something they finally did on May 22 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 after the CCL final 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 out a few things. As of Dec. 14, FIFA has not yet officially announced a format, dates or location for the tournament. Sounders President of Business Operations did say during the team’s Annual Business Meeting that FIFA had asked them to hold open Feb. 1-12, but that’s the closest thing we have to a date. No location has been determined either, although Concacaf President Victor Montagliani did shoot down rumors it could be played in the United States.

A report on Dec. 14, however, suggested that FIFA has told Real Madrid that the tournament will be held Feb. 1-11 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. That’s where the previous tournament was held as well.

Even the format is still a slightly open question. 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.

Assuming the old format is followed, though, Spain’s Real Madrid (Europe), Brazil’s Flamengo (South America), Morocco’s Wydad AC (Africa) and New Zealand’s Auckland City (Oceania) have all presumably qualified. Still undecided is the Asian qualifier (their final isn’t scheduled until Feb. 19-26) and a team representing the host nation.

If FIFA decides to simply punt this year’s tournament and build toward the once-every-four-years format, it is believed the Sounders would have already qualified for that one whenever it is held.

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