Long earlier than serving to the Seattle Sounders win the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League and qualifying for the present Club World Cup, ahead Jordan Morris was simply one other native child from the Emerald City, rooting for his favourite gamers.
“I remember even before I was on the [Seattle] team and watching [CONCACAF] Champions League games, I wanted them to win the tournament and be the first MLS team to do it,” the 28-year-old instructed ESPN.
Morris and the remainder of the Sounders squad have completed at least a part of that childhood aspiration, snapping a streak of 13 consecutive CCL titles for Liga MX groups. With a 5-2 mixture victory at Lumen Field over Pumas UNAM in final May’s ultimate, Seattle made historical past because the first-ever Major League Soccer facet to win the North American competitors in its trendy period.
On Saturday, that fairy story will proceed, and it might result in a coveted conflict towards Real Madrid.
The Club World Cup, held this yr in Morocco, brings collectively champions from every continent for a knockout-round event. The Sounders will debut towards Egypt’s Al-Ahly at Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier. The winner then faces Madrid within the semifinal spherical. On the opposite facet of the bracket, African champions Wydad Casablanca sort out Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal, who will then meet Brazilian outfit Flamengo.
Granted, with the MLS common season not kicking off for one more three weeks, the Sounders will enjoying their first aggressive matches of the yr.
“It’s definitely been more challenging in terms of building fitness and building sharpness within the group,” mentioned Morris, who has spent a shortened four-week preseason together with his teammates within the Spanish city of Marbella. “You gotta get up to fitness, speed and sharpness a lot quicker.”
While different MLS sides are ready to start the common season on Feb. 25, the Sounders have wanted to expedite their efforts. They’ve finished trainings by which gamers have been pushed greater than regular, taken half in second classes when wanted, and performed in two friendlies inside a 24-hour time-frame final Saturday — a 0-0 draw with Austria’s Wolfsberger AC and a 3-2 loss to Sweden’s Hammarby That mentioned, there have been few complaints about their beachside location.
“Well, Marbella versus Tucson,” joked head coach Brian Schmetzer concerning the distinction on this yr’s preseason camp. “Not to put Tucson, Arizona, down, we’ve had some good days there.
“It simply lends just a little bit extra taste, just a little bit extra pizzazz, just a little bit extra staff bonding while you’re abroad, it simply feels completely different. The gamers are energized.”
Veteran goalkeeper Stefan Frei was additionally content material together with his newest environment.
“The weather has been good, the pitches have been fantastic, the training grounds are really close to our hotel. So it makes everything very, very convenient,” Frei mentioned.
Whether the camp location was chosen merely for its proximity to Morocco or for the idyllic nature of the Marbella space, it looks like the suitable transfer for Seattle contemplating the speedy buildup and expectations being positioned on them as the primary MLS facet within the Club World Cup.
No longer watching from afar after Liga MX represented the CONCACAF area in each earlier version of the event, the Sounders will lastly have an opportunity to boast what considered one of MLS’ high groups can obtain on a world stage. Looking forward, Schmetzer was open about this weight on the shoulders of his staff.
“We don’t want to spend all this time and travel, and all that, to come to Morocco and not play very well, not be competitive. There is that little added bit of pressure individually and collectively, for sure,” he mentioned.
With that strain, there’s additionally an immense quantity of delight for the gamers being a part of a altering soccer panorama in America. With the 2022 World Cup over, there’s now a shifting focus towards the United States, which can co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada. In the early days of a brand new cycle, success at the Club World Cup might assist kickstart much more rising curiosity for the game within the nation.
“I think it continues to add to the excitement and add to the growth of soccer in this country,” Morris mentioned, who was a part of the USMNT’s World Cup squad in Qatar. “To be the first MLS team to play in this tournament, to be able to represent Seattle, represent MLS, is something that is a big honor. … It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
A extremely vital and invaluable second would additionally await them within the semifinals in the event that they get that speedy win towards Al-Ahly.
Although the gamers and coach all careworn the thought of taking issues sport by sport — Schmetzer himself mentioned that he has been messaging his roster “that we’ll never get there unless we beat our first opponent” — there’s an simple thrill for all concerned to presumably going through the 14-time UEFA Champions League winners.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play against Real Madrid in friendlies, once with Toronto FC, once in an MLS All-Star Game, and that’s all nice and dandy, but to get to actually play in a meaningful competition in a meaningful game, that’s another level,” Frei mentioned.
No longer a child watching CCL video games and hoping for Seattle to succeed, Morris knew that he and his teammates might presumably face a high European facet at the Club World Cup. “It was a cool experience, but the sentiment is that we have to get there first. We have to focus on this first game,” Morris mentioned.
In a contest as brief and compressed because the Club World Cup, the measures of success and disappointment have assorted wildly from CONCACAF’s earlier Liga MX entrants, and sometimes outlined by simply 90 minutes of play.
In 2018, there was a way of failure after Chivas arguably outplayed Japanese facet Kashima Antlers earlier than dropping 3-2 within the preliminary spherical. In 2019, there was widespread reward for a Monterrey facet that narrowly received their first sport after which put up a battle in a slim 2-1 loss to Liverpool within the semis. Similar accolades got to Tigres within the 2020 version for 2 shut victories after which dropping 1-0 to Bayern Munich within the ultimate.
Managing expectations and ambitions shall be key, however then once more, what has helped the Sounders attain the extent that they are at present at is thru these excessive expectations that they placed on themselves.
“Our mantra has always been that we take every game, whether it’s a training game, anything, we want to win. We’re competitive in that way,” Schmetzer mentioned.
“All those experiences that we’ve had — winning some MLS Cups, winning [U.S.] Open Cups, winning the CCL championship — certainly will help us in that regard. The guys are super focused, they’re prepared. That’s the normal course of business for this franchise.”
Seattle has been touted as one of many league’s mannequin golf equipment since becoming a member of MLS in 2007 as an enlargement franchise. The staff has received two MLS Cup titles and 4 U.S. Open Cup wins whereas persevering with to be among the many high in attendance figures.
“Our mentality is always to win trophies. We’ve been a club that prides ourself on that, and this is a new opportunity, a new challenge, but again, it goes back to taking it game by game,” the ahead mentioned.
If Liga MX golf equipment have been shut earlier than, if groups from Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Ecuador and Democratic Republic of the Congo have all had a chance in earlier finals, then why not Seattle?
As showcased within the CCL final yr, Frei continues to have the reflexes to single-handedly change the outcomes of matches, attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro was able to offering essential targets and assists, and up high, there are few gamers in CONCACAF membership soccer which have been as clutch in huge sport moments as Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz. In assist, others like Morris and Cristian Roldan have been good. Also, if midfielder Joao Paulo is again to full health this week, that’ll present an additional enhance as properly.
Players like these have purchased into not solely striving for fulfillment with the Sounders, but in addition being part of what may very well be a storied historical past.
“When you go through a Bayern Munich or an AC Milan trophy room, you see the black-and-white picture of the team that won their trophies for the very first time,” Frei mentioned.
“We’ve done that in 2016 [with an MLS Cup], we’ve done that with winning CONCACAF Champions League, and now we get to represent our community, our club, Seattle as a city, our families and also the league.”
Even if they do not win all of it, even when they lose that first match, there may very well be one other younger fan watching from residence, wishing to someday see them elevate that title.