When Will The Seattle Sounders Play In The Club World Cup?

The Seattle Sounders won the Concacaf Champions League on Wednesday night, beating Pumas of Mexico, 3-0, to claim a 5-2 victory over aggregate in the two-legged final. The victory made Seattle the first team to lift a trophy in Major League Soccer, and given the continental title of the United States it has coveted for more than 20 years.

It should also make Seattle the first MLS team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Except that no one, not even FIFA, is sure when the event will take place, or what it will look like. The tournament’s traditional December window is unavailable this year because of the World Cup in Qatar, and grand plans for an expanded Club World Cup in China have been announced there and then promptly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“No clue,” an FIFA official said in a text message when asked if Seattle could expect to take part in the event.

The Club World Cup has been held annually since 2005, with each of FIFA’s global confederations facing off to determine a world club champion. Top European teams have dominated the event, with the likes of Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Chelsea lifting the trophy in the last decade. Facing off against teams like that in an international competition has been a dream for many MLS players, executives and fans.

FIFA, which runs the Club World Cup, has been eager to expand the tournament, and put a plan on the table for a 24-team tournament to be held this summer and held every four years instead of annually. In a meeting in Shanghai in October 2019, it approved the change and awarded China the hosting rights for the first edition in 2021. The coronavirus soon made that plan unworkable.

The pandemic-delayed 2021 Club World Cup that was held in February, and won by Chelsea, was nominally the final one under the old, smaller format. Holding another one in 2022 could be problematic, with league schedules already being squeezed by the enforced break being the World Cup that opens in November. There has been talk of holding the first expanded version in the summer of 2023, but as of now there is no official date for the event.

Under the original plans for the expanded tournament, three teams from the Concacaf region – covering North and Central America and the Caribbean – would be able. One of them will be presumably the Sounders after Wednesday’s victory, though the official qualifying criteria have not been announced.

An American team has played in the Club World Cup once before. The very first Club World Cup, in 2000, was an eight-team event in Brazil. That year was the last one in which an American team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, won the continental championship. So for the 2001 world event, expanded to 12 teams, the Galaxy was duly entered along with Real Madrid and other teams from around the world.

But a sponsor led to financial concerns and a collapse of the event being scrapped. It was revived in 2005 in its current format. Too late for the Galaxy. The Mexican and Costa Rican teams – to the immense frustration of MLS – have won the title every year since.

Now that the Sounders have broken that streak, they and the MLS will hopefully have a newly expanded event – whenever it is held, and whatever it looks like – goes more smoothly.

Tariq Panja contributed reporting.

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