Seattle Sounders’ 2023 season is unlike any other in MLS history.
The Sounders get a chance to do something unprecedented this year, starting Feb. 4 (9:30 a.m. PT | FS2, FOX Deportes) with their first match at the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco. Seattle became the first Major League Soccer club to earn a Club World Cup berth after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last year.
It’s an incredible opportunity for the club and the league as a whole. Here are five storylines to watch ahead of opening matchday.
A historic first
It was a milestone occasion last year to win the CCL. In addition to winning the Champions League, Seattle was awarded this coveted Club World Cup spot, which pits them in a tournament against other Champions League winners worldwide.
It’s an exclusive group, one that no MLS club has ever been a part of before, on a stage where they’ll be competing against true members of the sports’ global elite with a trophy on the line. A good performance against this competition would certainly turn heads, regardless of the final result.
All eyes on Al Ahly-Auckland City
On Feb. 1, Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly (Africa runner-up) faces off against New Zealand’s Auckland City (Oceania winner), and the winner advances to the Second Round, where the Sounders await.
The Sounders fans should keep an eye on the Feb. 1 matchup between two potential opponents that would be formidable opponents. With 42 league titles, Al Ahly is an Egyptian Premier League and African powerhouse. Auckland City will be considered the underdog, but they will be playing with nothing to lose as well as trying to avoid an upset.
Additionally, it’s a good chance to scout out the club Seattle has the best chance of staying in Morocco.
A match against Real Madrid? It’s possible
A UEFA Champions League winner is always one of the best clubs in the world by definition, and this year, UEFA is represented by Spanish giant Real Madrid, a well-known club.
Upon winning Seattle’s first match against either Al Ahly or Auckland City, a semifinal matchup against the perennial La Liga powerhouse would await.
The Sounders have never faced an opponent as intimidating as Real Madrid. The reigning UCL champions have won this competition four times and boast one of the world’s most expensive and star-studded rosters. But with adversity comes opportunity, and you never know what might happen over 90 minutes.
João Paulo returns, Héber arrives
Aside from pre-tournament preparations, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer has also been able to integrate a group that features two significant additions – one returning and one new.
The 31-year-old Brazilian midfielder is training with the club during the preseason as he prepares to return to action. After sustaining a torn ACL in last year’s CCL Final, the standout has been training with the club since then. If he is cleared in time, he could prove a huge boost for the Club World Cup.
Additionally, Seattle is integrating Brazilian forward Héber, who was acquired in December in a trade with New York City FC. With 24 goals in 70 league appearances, Héber proved to be a consistent MLS striker in the Eastern Conference. With a jam-packed schedule coming up in 2023, Héber will get a lot of minutes, so this will provide a good first impression of how he’s fitting in.
Enjoying the moment
Seattle’s participation in this tournament makes this a unique preseason for the club. The Sounders are preparing for one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments during a time of year usually reserved for inter-squad scrimmages and closed-door matches against other MLS clubs.
The magnitude of that should not be taken for granted, and it’s a moment that the players, staff, and fanbase should fully savor. The Sounders are celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2024, so it’s fitting that they’ll take a shot at making history against the world’s best teams this season.