Let’s start tonight with a hypothetical. Let’s say later this week, the Mariners took a quick break from their regular season games and played a professional club from Honduras or Nicaragua, as part of a tournament involving North American and Latin American teams.
And then in a couple weeks, in-between a series against the Astros and Rangers, the M's had to fit in a quick few games against the Bellingham Bells as part of a separate tournament, open to any club baseball team across the United States. And if they beat the Bellingham Bells, they’d advance in that tournament to face the Boston Red Sox, but those games would only count in that specific tournament, without counting toward their record in the Major League Baseball regular season.
It might all get a little confusing. Or - VERY confusing. Which is exactly why I don’t envy the typical American sports fan trying to understand the typical Sounders schedule, which weaves in two other tournaments right in the middle of their MLS season.
There’s nothing like it: The Mariners don’t do it, the Storm don’t, the Kraken don’t, OL Reign doesn’t, the Seahawks don’t, the Seawolves don’t, and the Sonics wouldn’t either.
So for those of us who were raised on the one-season, one-championship culture of most pro sports in America, it’s a significant adjustment and learning process to fully digest and compartmentalize what the Sounders are doing right now. Heck, I’m a decade-plus into covering them as an MLS team and I still have to take a minute to associate each match they play with the corresponding season or tournament.
And while some die-hard Sounders fans might think I’m being overly dramatic, I can assure you there are casual and passionate fans alike who do the same - or need a periodic refresher.
When you have so many different trophies at stake, it’s fair to give it a run-through, so folks, if you don’t understand it all, I encourage you to hit the DVR button and save this for future reference.
The Sounders play a Major League Soccer season every year, where they compete for the MLS Cup – the ultimate prize. The team who has the best overall record with the most total points during the regular season gets the Supporters Shield. And the Sounders also have an in-season competition with their two biggest rivals, Portland and Vancouver, in which the team with the best overall record against the other two teams is awarded the Cascadia Cup.
Yes, it sounds remedial, but that’s three potential trophies – MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, Cascadia Cup – all dependent on how the Sounders play during their main season each year. So let’s put all of that in one compartment and set it off to the side.
Next up, CONCACAF Champions League, which is a misnomer in and of itself, because it’s not a "league" in the sense of how American fans tend to view things. It’s actually an elimination tournament.
CONCACAF Champions League is an annual tournament that involves the best teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Multiple MLS teams play in this tournament every year, which is how the Sounders played New York City FC in the semifinals, in matches that were completely separate from regular-season play.
Anyway, the winner of this tournament advances to the FIFA Club World Cup, which includes the winners from each of the other regions across the world: the best club from Asia, from Africa, South America, Oceania, and the most well-known, UEFA Champions League in Europe, which this year has narrowed its field to Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Villareal.
No American team has ever competed in the FIFA Club World Cup, but the Sounders can clinch their spot by beating Pumas from Mexico in the Champions League Finals this week and next. That’s why Brian Schmetzer said it’s an (expletive) big deal. It really is.
Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, the Sounders also play in the U.S. Open Cup, which is open to any club soccer team, regardless of level, across the country. Again, even though they often play other MLS teams in this tournament, these matches are completely separate from the regular season schedule and standings. The Sounders are currently in the Round of 32, and will face San Jose on Wednesday May 11.
To recap, you are not crazy if you’ve found it hard to nail down the Sounders schedule each year. Right now, they’re playing in three separate events with five potential trophies – six, if they win Champions League and advance to the Club World Cup.
But each event holds a respective prestige, an importance that should not be diluted by the others. Which is why understanding the significance of each one is important, but not always fully understood, by your typical sports fan in this country.