The Sounders play their 1st game of the MLS season on March 6. But today is February 23 and they have a home game that matters against a Mexican team called Club America. For you non-soccer fans, I will attempt to explain in the fewest words possible.
1) In 2014, while the regular season was being played, the Sounders won a different tournament called the U.S. Open Cup. That made them one of 4 American teams to qualify for yet another DIFFERENT 24 team tournament in 2015 called the Concacaf Champions League (Concacaf = Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.)
2) In 2015, they played the “Group Stage,” where the 24 teams were split into 8 groups of 3, with the winner of each advancing to the next round. So the Sounders played 2 games against a team from Canada and 2 games against a team from Honduras. They won their Group, thus advancing to the final round of 8.
3) HOWEVER, due to the weird schedules of U.S. and Mexican leagues, you can’t actually play the quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals of the 2015 tournament in 2015. So these rounds are being played in February, March and April of 2016. In each round, the teams will play two games against their opponent, one at home, one on the road a week later. Most goals after two games wins.
4) Out of the 24 teams that qualified for the tournament originally, 4 were from the Mexican League and 4 were from the U.S. The other 16 came from all over Central America; Honduras, Trinidad, Guatemala, etc… All 4 teams from Mexico and all 4 teams from the U.S. advanced to the final round of 8. So if you are a math wizard, you are able to quickly see than ZERO of the 16 teams from the other countries made it past the U.S. and Mexican teams. In fact, when you look at the overall records in the Group Stage, U.S. teams were 10-5-1 and Mexican teams 10-4-2. Yes, in 32 games, U.S. and Mexican teams lost a total of 3 times.
Now, you might ask the question, “Well if the U.S. and Mexican teams are the only ones to make it through the Group Stage anyway, why do they play meaningless games in 2015 and delay the Knockout rounds until a full 2 seasons after the teams qualified? Why not skip the Group Stage and just have an 8 team Knockout in the right year?”
That’s a question I don’t really have a better answer for than, “Well, it’s soccer.”
Adding to the lunacy of the whole thing, because each group has 3 teams, by mathematical definition all the teams in the groups can’t play in the same 24 hours, like every other tournament in the world would schedule games. So in a quirk of fate, last year the Sounders won their group BEFORE the other two teams in their group had played their final game. Thus, Vancouver had to fly to Honduras in the middle of the week to play a game that didn’t matter, wasn’t on TV and no one wanted to go to. I think they sent like 13 of their youngsters and were in and out in 24 hours.
So that’s why the Sounders are playing tonight.