How does the Club World Cup work?

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The Seattle Sounders discovered their Club World Cup destiny on Friday when the full draw was announced. The first match will be against the winner of the opening match between Egypt’s Al Ahly and New Zealand’s Auckland City. If the Sounders win that match, they will play a semi-final against Real Madrid. All matches will be played in Tangier and Rabat, Morocco, between February 1st and February 11th.

This is all pretty new to us, so we imagine you have a lot of questions. We will!

Can you start by explaining what the Club World Cup is?

The simplest way to explain it is a small tournament between the winners of the various champions leagues. Here is a list of eligible teams:

  • Africa: Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), Al Ahly (Egypt)
  • Asia*: Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia)
  • CONCACAF: Sounders (United States)
  • Europe: Real Madrid (Spain)
  • South America: Flamengo (Brazil)
  • Oceania: Auckland City (New Zealand)

*A quick note on Al-Hilal, they were selected by the Asian FA courtesy of being the champions in 2021 as they didn’t complete the champions league in time.

There are only six federations, but seven teams. How was the seventh team selected?

The seventh team is traditionally a representative of the host nation. But when the host nation is already represented by one of the teams that qualified — in this case Wydad — it gives up that vacancy to the runner-up in the league of champions of that federation. In this case, it’s Egypt’s Al Ahly.

Remind me how the Sounders qualified…

They won the Concacaf Champions League in May, defeating Pumas UNAM of Liga MX 5-2 over two legs. They had to beat three other teams to reach the final and qualified for the CCL by finishing with the third best record during the 2021 MLS regular season. Normally, this would not have been good enough to enter, but since there was no US Open Cup winner, an extra MLS team qualified on the regular season table.

How did they decide who would play in that opening match?

This match has always been played between those who qualified via hosting and the Oceania team, presumably because it’s the smallest federation and its teams aren’t even fully professional.

That sounds like a good omen for the Sounders. Did they get a break with the draw?

In a sense, yes. At least on paper, the Sounders get their ideal quarterfinal matchup. Real Madrid are easily the most talented team in the tournament, but that’s also the opponent the Sounders seem to be most excited to play.

What do we know about the Sounders’ potential opponents?

Auckland City are a semi-professional team, which means most of these players don’t play football as a full-time job. That said, they are a very good semi-professional team with 21 domestic titles and 10 OFC Champions League trophies. This is their 11th trip to the Club World Cup and they finished third in 2014. There are three players who already have Club World Cup experience, including defender Angel Berlanga, who played for the third-place team.

Al Ahly will definitely be favorites to advance, and would be a problem for the Sounders. They are the most decorated club in the world, with over 100 trophies in their 115-year history. These trophies include 42 Egyptian Premier League titles and 10 CAF Champions League titles. They are currently leading the domestic league and are undefeated in 13 matches. They have 15 national team players and Transfermarkt gives them a collective worth of around $30 million. Don’t be surprised if they also have a strong following.

If the Sounders win the first game, do they play against Real Madrid? Do you like Real Madrid?

Yes. I don’t know if Real Madrid will play with all their stars at the start of the tournament, but their squad is worth almost $1 billion, according to Transfermarkt. They only have four players on their roster valued at less than the Sounders’ most expensive player. Put another way, they will be heavily favored against the Sounders no matter what their lineup looks like.

What happens if the Sounders lose the first game?

They go home. Unlike most previous tournaments, there is no match for fifth place.

How have MLS teams performed in past tournaments?

The Sounders will make history simply by playing in one game, as no MLS team has ever competed in the Club World Cup. The only other MLS team to qualify was the LA Galaxy in 2000, but that year’s Club World Cup was cancelled. If the Sounders win their first game, they will also become the first MLS team to compete against a European club in an officially sanctioned tournament.

OK, how have Concacaf teams fared in previous tournaments?

The best performance by a Concacaf team was when Tigres UANL was runner-up in 2020, losing to Bayern Munich in the final. Another four times a Concacaf team has finished third. In 11 of the previous 18 tournaments, the Concacaf team won at least their first match.

When and where will these matches be played?

The Sounders’ first match will be on February 4th in Tangier, while a possible second match will be on February 8th in Rabat. The match for third place and the final will be played in Rabat on 11 February.

What are these cities like?

I don’t want to pretend that I’m an expert on Morocco, but people who have been there tell me that these are the two most touristy cities. Yes, Casablanca is the most famous city and where business and cruise ships go, but the cultural material is mainly in Rabat (capital) and Tangier (closer to Spain).

Any Sounders fans planning to go?

ECS is organizing a group. I suggest contacting them. Twitter travel account or contact them through Facebook. They should be able to help you with tickets as well.

How expensive are the flights?

Again, I’m not an expert, but based on my limited research, it looks like it will cost at least $1,000 round trip to get from Seattle to anywhere in Morocco. If you have a more flexible travel schedule, you can fly to Spain for around $600 and then get from Spain to Morocco for just $50 round trip.

Will the matches be televised?

Fox Sports apparently owns the rights, but has yet to announce which of its channels will air the matches.

Is there a complete schedule?


How much money is at stake?

This year’s tournament payout has yet to be announced, but the 2022 tournament had a purse of $16.5 million. If the prize pool remains the same, the Sounders would likely receive at least $1.25 million just for playing and would receive at least $2 million if they won the first game.

Can this be converted into GAM (aka MLS funny money)?

Not as far as I can tell.

Let’s say the Sounders won. Does that mean everyone will agree they are the best team in the world?

I would definitely recommend any Sounders fan to at least use this to resolve any bar disputes, but you must do so with the understanding that you will receive A LOT of resistance. Most people rightly see this as a faked display, but that shouldn’t stop us from getting the most out of it.

Is it a big deal though?

It’s always in the eye of the beholder and the Sounders have been building on that for years, talking about the CCL as a way to play against some of the biggest teams in the world in real competition. To their credit, they didn’t shy away from it. The players, coaches and board seem genuinely excited about the chance to measure up to some of the most successful clubs in history. The fact that some fans underestimated the importance shouldn’t matter. Enjoy it! We are making history.


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