The Seattle Sounders had a short experience as Major League Soccer's first representative at the Club World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Al Ahly Saturday eliminated them from the competition, but it was still a performance to remember for the Cascadia club. Coming out of the gates, it was clear that Al Ahly was the team in the middle of their season, in rhythm and creating early chances but the Sounders were able to rebound settling into the match. Neither team could test the keepers until late on, however, when Mohamed Afsha scored the eventual winner from outside the box to avoid extra time and secure a date with Real Madrid.
As the match wore on, it became clear which team is undefeated and in the middle of their season and which was only playing their third match of 2023 and first competitive match before the MLS season kicks off on February 26. The second half was a disjointed one, but to Seattle's credit, despite the scheduling challenges, they still came to the Club World Cup and competed like a team that was supposed to be there.
Al Ahly has a potent attack. After rolling over Auckland City in their first match and squeaking by the Sounders they've now scored four goals in the tournament but the Egyptian side's goal Saturday came their only shot on target against the Sounders, a deflected one at that. Unfortunately, one shot is all that it took to see the Sounders out of the competition.
It brings up familiar schedule issues that MLS has faced before. The league runs from February through November or December instead of on a traditional August through May schedule. With the travel and weather constraints in America, there are fair reasons why the league runs this way, but it does put them behind the eight ball when it comes to competing on the continental and world stage. No league has teams flying the distance from Miami to Vancouver before turning around to go to Boston on a Wednesday while experiencing an entirely different climate in each area. Teams in European competitions occasionally face journeys that are equally long but when they return to league play, the lengthy trips subside.
Similar scheduling issues have plagued MLS teams in the early rounds of Concacaf Champions League, but that was something that the Sounders overcame to win the tournament last season. Now, with joint competition coming with CONMEBOL and Concacaf teams combined, MLS sides will get used to this level of competition on short rest which will only be a good thing for teams moving forward.
This is the first foray for MLS into the Club World Cup and it was a valuable experience. The match for the Sounders may have ended in disappointment but looking like you belong while still in the preseason is absolutely a positive. Next up is incremental progress and the pie-in-the-sky dream is eventually winning the tournament. With the growth that Major League Soccer has experienced, there's no reason that can't happen in the future.