Sounders FC will continue its quest Wednesday for what coach Sigi Schmid considers the most meaningful competition his team will play this season: CONCACAF Champions League.
“It’s the most prestigious cup any MLS team competes for,” Schmid said. “MLS Cup is certainly an important championship – you always want to win your (league’s) championship – as is Supporters Shield, as is the U.S. Open Cup. But if you can win the championship of your confederation if you can lay claim to the title that says, ‘Hey, we’re the best team from Canada all the way through Panama,’ you know that’s something that’s pretty special ”
So why have only 18,500 fans bought tickets to watch the home segment of Seattle’s two-game aggregate-score quarterfinal series against Santos Laguna?
“It’s just not of the American sports conscience at this point,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said Monday. “It’s going to take time. And so I think it’s beholden upon us to do whatever we can to educate and hopefully bring our fans along. Twenty-thousand-plus is still going to be one of the biggest crowds to see a CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) game in the U.S., so I think we have to keep that in mind. Would I hope for 30-, 40-, 50,000? Absolutely. Some day I think we’ll get there.”
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Toronto is already there.
A crowd of 40,000 is expected at the Rogers Centre for Toronto FC’s quarterfinal CCL series opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy. That disparity comes despite Seattle drawing 38,496 for an average home MLS game last season, compared to 20,267 at Toronto.
Why are the proportions reversed for Champions League?
“No disrespect intended, but they haven’t had a lot of big games in Toronto in recent years,” Hanauer said. “They haven’t had playoff games . they haven’t been in Champions League. I think that’s one. Two, the Galaxy, I think, is a big opponent still. David Beckham draws fans. And they’ve turned that into a special game because it is at Rogers Centre.”
He called it a testament to the Toronto soccer market and its possibilities.
No disrespect taken by Toronto senior director of business operations Paul Beirne.
“We’ve never gotten out of the group stage in Champions League,” he said. “So in our short history this is the most important game we’ve ever played.”
Beirne said the game was scheduled at Rogers Centre because of concerns about potentially frigid Toronto weather in early March.
The home for baseball’s Blue Jays and the CFL Argonauts not only has a roof but enough seats to allow popular pricing.
“I think the really low entry price adds to the appeal for sure,” Beirne said. “But I think at some point – once it crested over 25- or 30,000 tickets – it became apparent that this is the real deal, this was going to be a real event. And then the tickets almost flew out the door.”
Eight clubs remain alive in the CCL, which determines the top club in North American, Central America and the Caribbean. The champion goes on to the FIFA Club World Cup.
Hanauer respects the CCL and would love to add its championship hardware to his club’s trophy case.
“Champions League and MLS Cup have got to both be the A-plus cups,” he said. “It would be absolutely amazing to win a Champions League and to be able to play in the World Club Championships – I mean absolutely tremendous. But I’d be equally excited to win an MLS Cup.”
Sounders goalkeeper Andrew Weber and his twin brother, Elliot, were eliminated from “The Amazing Race” reality show on Sunday. “It was fun,” Weber said Monday. “It was a good time, but my main focus is here with the Sounders.” Forward Eddie Johnson (hamstring) participated fully in practice again Monday, and Schmid implied he is likely to play and perhaps start against Santos.