The Seattle Sounders will play a crucial game on in Mexico City on Wednesday, March 2 in the second leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Mexican side Club América.
And while die-hards know exactly what to expect from the game and the tournament, the SCCL can be something of a mystery to fans still figuring out the landscape of North American soccer and where the Sounders fit.
With that in mind, SoundersFC.com offers up a few answers to some frequently asked questions about the match, and what it means for the Sounders this year.
What is the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League?
Great first question, thanks for asking. Originally created as the CONCACAF Champions' Cup way back in 1962 but then renamed the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008, the SCCL is a tournament that decides the best club team in North America. We’re not talking national teams like the United States or Mexico, but rather club teams like the Sounders, other MLS teams or all the the club teams that play in Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica and elsewhere in the region. A total of 24 teams compete, including four from the U.S., four from Mexico and one from Canada. Scotiabank jumped on as a corporate sponsor in December 2014, which is where the SCCL abbreviation comes from.
What’s at stake?
The world. More accurately, the FIFA Club World Cup, which decides the best club team on the planet. The Sounders have a few rounds to go if they want to qualify for that tournament – they’re in the quarterfinals now, which means they’d have to knock off three opponents to win the SCCL title for the chance to play against the best club team from Europe, South America, etc. For a team with aspirations of enjoying success and exposure on a global scale, reaching the FIFA Club World Cup would be a tremendous step.
Why are the Sounders playing in this tournament?
The Sounders qualified for the 2015-16 edition of the tournament by winning the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and the 2014 U.S. Open Cup. Then they advanced past the group stage last fall by besting fellow MLS side (and Canada representative) Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Honduran club Olimpia in the most difficult of the eight, three-team groups. Here’s one of the moments that helped push them through, if perhaps you forgot.
Who is Club América?
Only the most storied club in Mexican soccer history. Based in Mexico City, Club América (or just América) have won more Liga MX titles than any other club in league history (12) and won this very tournament in 2014, qualifying for the Club World Cup. They’re currently sitting in fourth place in the Liga MX Apertura season (Mexico splits its season into two seasons, but that’s a different story), but they were the best team in the CCL group stage last fall and enter the quarterfinals as the No. 1 overall seed. They’re good.
How does the series against Club América work?
It’s not unlike the MLS Conference Semifinals or Finals, which Sounders fans should know well. It’s a two-game, aggregate-goal series (the team with the most goals over the two legs moves on), and the Sounders and Club America played to a 2-2 draw in the opening leg at CenturyLink Field last week. Away goals count as the tiebreaker in this one, which basically means if there’s a tie in the aggregate goals after the two legs, the team with more goals scored away from home moves on. If they’re all even after two legs, the series is decided by (gulp) penalty kicks. In order to advance, the Sounders need to win the game on Wednesday by any score, or draw the game by any scoreline of 3-3 or more.
Have the Sounders ever played in this tournament before?
Yep. This is the fourth time the Sounders have played in the SCCL, and the third time they’ve reached the quarterfinals (2011, 2012). They lost in the quarterfinals in 2011 to Mexican club Santos Laguna but then reached the semifinals the next year after beating Mexican club Tigres in the quarterfinals, the first time an MLS team beat a Mexican team in the knockout round. They've never played at Azteca, however.
Has an MLS team ever won this tournament before?
MLS fans know all too well that CCL is still a missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to the league’s explosive growth in size and credibility over the years, as Mexican teams have won the past 10 editions of the tournament. Old school MLS-ers remember that D.C. United and the LA Galaxy won the Champions Cup (1998 and 2000, respectively), but it’s been a dry spell since then for MLS clubs. Real Salt Lake (2011) and the Montreal Impact (2015) have come the closest, but each lost in the final.
Aren’t the Sounders basically still in preseason mode?
Kind of. Arguably the toughest aspect of this tournament is that all four MLS teams still alive – the Sounders, Galaxy, D.C. United and Real Salt Lake – are only a month into their preseason, while the four Mexican teams in the tournament are seven or eight games into their new season. It’s a tough ask for any club to get up to speed and get fit in a month, and then play a road game at elevation in one of the world’s most intimidating venues, but that’s how it goes. No one said it would be easy.
So do the Sounders have a chance?
Definitely, especially after showing their mettle in the opening leg. They got two goals from Clint Dempsey and looked more than capable of overcoming the offseason loss of Obafemi Maritns, and have a slew of veterans who have either played in this tournament or similarly prestigious ones – think Dempsey, Nelson Valdez, Osvaldo Alonso, Chad Marshall and Andreas Ivanschitz. It's a tough ask to get a result in Azteca - wins come few and far between there for MLS teams and the U.S. national team - but in the SCCL, anything is possible.