The Seattle Sounders won the Concacaf Champions League on Wednesday night, beating Pumas of Mexico, 3-0, and claiming a 5-2 aggregate victory in the two-legged final. The victory has made Seattle the first team from the Premier League to lift the trophy in a generation, giving the United States the continental title it has been aspiring for more than 20 years.
It should also make Seattle the first MLS team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Unless anyone, not even FIFA, is sure when the event will take place, or how. The traditional window of the December tournament is missing this year because of the World Cup in Qatar, and good plans to expand the Club World Cup in China have not gone anywhere since the announcement and then immediately disrupted by the coronavirus epidemic.
“I don’t know,” one FIFA official said in a text message when asked when Seattle would expect to take part in the event.
The Club World Cup has been held annually since 2005, with representatives of each FIFA federation battling for the club club title. Major European teams have dominated the tournament, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Chelsea lifting the trophy a decade ago. Facing such teams in international competitions has been a dream for many MLS players, actors and fans.
FIFA, which hosts the World Cup Clubs, has been keen to expand the tournament, and has put a plan on the 24-team tournament being transferred to the summer season and held every four years instead of every year. At a conference in Shanghai in October 2019, it approved the change and gave China the right to host the first edition of 2021. The Korona virus recently made the plan impossible.
The delayed 2021 Club World Cup which was held in February, and won by Chelsea, was the last under the old, younger structure. Holding another in 2022 could be a challenge, and league schedules are already tightened by the break implemented by the World Cup which will open in November. There have been talks to hold the first extended edition in the summer of 2023, but so far there is no official date for the event.
Under the original plans for the expanded tournament, three teams from the Concacaf region – comprising North and Central America and the Caribbean – will participate. One of them is likely to become Sounders after Wednesday’s victory, although official qualification criteria have not been announced.
It is also possible that the old, smaller structure will be preserved for a few more years: Even the Sounders officials were unsure of the outcome of Wednesday night’s victory.
“We still have no form; We have no place, ”Garth Lagerwey, the team’s general manager, told reporters. “We are told, maybe February-ish. Maybe the Middle East maybe.”
Despite the uncertainty, Lagerway, MLS’s longtime chief executive, did nothing to hide his joy at the success. “We will play against Real Madrid or Liverpool, man,” he said. “In a real game.”
Officially, FIFA would only say on Thursday that “more details about the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup will be announced in due course.”
The US team is close to playing the Club World Cup once before. The very first Club World Cup, in 2000, was an eight-team event in Brazil. That was the last year that the American team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, won the continental championship. So for the 2001 World Cup, extended to 12 teams, the Galaxy was properly included along with Real Madrid and other teams from around the world.
But financial worries and financial collapse caused the event to be canceled. It was revived in 2005 in its current format. It’s too late for the Galaxy. The Mexican and Costa Rica teams – to the dismay of the MLS – have won titles every year since then.
With the Sounders now breaking the series, they and MLS will hope the Club World Cup – whenever it happens, and whatever it is – goes smoothly.
Tariq Panja contributed to the report.