Perhaps there were too many labels as “MLS biggest night” that the words lost all meaning. So many stadium openings (which is good! Except for those that may have opened up to the public), or MLS Cup finals, or TV deals, or expansion teams joining the fray (and definitely not contributing to a Ponzi scheme). It’s a silly ride if you’re following the league, but it’s hard to know what actually signals progress and what’s just disguised as such.
Last night in Seattle was a definite sign and couldn’t or shouldn’t have happened anywhere else. The Seattle Sounders became the first MLS team in 17 attempts to win the CONCACAF Champions League, beating the Pumas 3-0 for a 5-2 aggregate win over two legs. They did it on a Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 68,000 at Lumen Field.
Above all, this means that the Seattle Sounders will play in the same tournament, the Club World Cup, as either Real Madrid or Liverpool next winter. You could play a South American giant like River or Boca or Flamengo. You have to forgive anyone who takes a moment to understand that they see the Sounders or any MLS team on the same field as those teams. What a ride it must be for Sounders fans.
MLS has talked a lot about being the best league in North America, i.e. surpassing Liga MX. But you can’t do that until you have the results. A CCL triumph doesn’t mean a seismic shift, but it has to start somewhere. In time there will be others. The 2023 League Cup, in which every team from both leagues will take part, will be another test and has certainly become even more fascinating after last night.
It’s fitting that it was Seattle to be first. You are the flag bearer of the league, both on and off the field. They were Jump Street’s most supported team and have acted like the big swinging dick ever since. Sure, they found a perfect bag coming into MLS at the same time Seattle was reeling from the Sonics’ departure and fans were on the lookout for everything. But 13 years later, this passion has still not evaporated. Fans in many other markets watch Sounders games and wish they could. i know i do And with 68,000 players, by and large, there aren’t that many clubs around the world that can do that.
But that doesn’t mean the Sounders are on an inaccessible plane. Many places have passionate fans who want Seattle’s continued success and want to create the enduring atmosphere that surrounds the Sounders. Many fans are working hard to bring that to their city. MLS rules and the Byzantine salary cap can make it difficult for teams to consistently release the same cast of characters and build a team that fans can count on year after year. But Seattle seems to be doing it because they’re determined to. Anything is possible for anyone who is ready and willing.
It’s hard not to watch a Sounders game and think not only about where the sport could be going in this country, but how far it has come. There are many of us fans who don’t remember any league at all. And the inaugural footsteps of MLS watching games in suburban high school/college fields or retrofitted minor league baseball stadiums (yes I know NYCFC but shut up) or the bad jerseys or the ridiculous rules or whatever . It’s such a journey to see 68K emerge singing their lungs bloody as an MLS team inserts a Liga MX team. Not so long ago, the thought of such a thing was just gibberish.
Seattle has certainly taken the rest of the league to a new level and made American club play look more like what we watch from across the pond this weekend mornings. But many clubs have followed. Wednesday night is one of those dizzying moments when you can’t believe how far everything has come and at the same time how far it could go. It’s a nexus, a look back and forward at the same time.
Well done to the Sounders and their fans. We are all grateful for making us all dream.