March 6, 2013 in Sports

Sounders closing gap

Goal is CONCACAF crown
Joshua Mayers Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Players like Steve Zakuani have helped Sounders compete on international stage.
(Full-size photo)

MLS commissioner Don Garber has made his goal about as clear as possible: He wants the league to be recognized as one of the world’s best by 2022.

International respect will come from, among other things, international success, and that’s where the CONCACAF Champions League comes in. The tournament allows top MLS teams to take on the strongest clubs around North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

It has been the top league in Mexico, however, that has dominated the competition, claiming all four winners and even three of the runners-up.

“We have to do better in the Champions League,” Garber said at halftime of Sounders FC’s season opener Saturday.

“I think the opportunity for an MLS team to win the Champions League in this region, and go to a World Club Championship and compete against some of the best clubs in the world, is an important goal.”

Seattle, one of three MLS teams remaining in the 2012-13 CCL, kicks off a two-leg quarterfinal on the road at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Mexican league leaders Tigres UANL. The second game in the aggregate-goals series is Tuesday at CenturyLink Field.

The goal is to represent the league well, but general manager Adrian Hanauer said last week it would be disingenuous to say the Sounders are best positioned to make a championship run – particularly having not yet been able to secure the transfer of top forward Obafemi Martins from Spain’s Levante UD.

Seattle still has talent, depth and the higher seed in the matchup due to group-stage performance but remains a clear underdog.

“It’s going to be a massive task given the strength of the Tigres team and just the realities of the differences between Liga MX (Mexico’s first division) and MLS,” Hanauer said. “Those guys like Tigres are spending three-, four-, five times as much on salaries as MLS teams, and it makes it tough to compete.”

So will MLS be raising its salary cap to help foster goals of growth? Garber said it would but will take also into account “continued stability and financial strength of the league.”

Aside from the disparity in finances, Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said the gap is narrowing between Liga MX and MLS.

Mexican teams are “going with first-choice lineups against MLS teams now,” Schmid said. “If you go back maybe three years, even at this stage of the competition, they would not put out a first-choice lineup. I think that shows that they have a greater respect for our league and that the gap between the two leagues has definitely narrowed.”

Note

U.S. Soccer announced a number of changes to the U.S. Open Cup ahead of the 100th edition of the tournament this year. Teams will no longer be able to bid to host games in any round. Home teams will be determined by random selection.

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