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US Open Cup win means Champions League berth

The Sounders FC will fill up their slate with international play beginning next July.

With their 2-1 win over DC United in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Wednesday, it now appears certain that the Sounders FC will play in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League.

“With their average attendance this year, the Sounders will be a great addition to the Champions League.  We can’t wait to have them," CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer said.

“For me this is an enormous milestone.  This is one of those goals we set for ourselves and allows us to reach our fiver-year goal to play in the World Club Championships,” Sounders FC owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer said.  “This is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Open Cup.  We are happy we won the tournament, but the big prize is the Champions League.”

The Sounders fantastic run through the Open Cup, which saw them top two MLS teams in play-in games, a USL club and three more MLS teams to win the tournament, means that next July they will enter the 24-team regional tournament.

Historically, the winners of the MLS Cup, the Supporter’s Shield (for best regular season record) and US Open Cup, along with the runners-up in the MLS Cup have advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League.  The rest of the tournament is made of teams from Mexico and Canada, as well as several Central American and Caribbean countries, including Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, among others.

In previous years, the winners of the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup went straight to the group phase and the other two teams entered in the play-in round, which is a home-and-home series with another CONCACAF team with the winner entering the group stage.

This means a likely increase in games on the schedule and, thus, increased revenue for the Sounders FC and an rise in the profile of the team’s brand both locally and internationally.  But it also means more strain on the lineup.

“Long-term, we need to find the best way to optimize our roster for league play and the Open Cup and now we are adding Champions League to the fixture list,” Hanauer said.  “It makes you think about how to juggle the tournaments because we go into all three trying to win.”

That means the Sounders will need a deep roster, but that is not different than this year, and particularly in the Open Cup final, when Seattle started only seven regular starters because of injuries and suspensions.

This year, the Champions League opened the preliminary round in late July.  Group stage will run from August-October, with the quarterfinals in late February and early March, the semifinals in March and April and the finals concluding in May.  The winner of the tournament advances to the FIFA Club World Cup, which feature the winners from all six championship confederations and the host country.