Seattle can make history as MLS spending rivals Liga MX
10: 07 AM ET
Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
For Garth Lagerwey, the flashbacks are unavoidable.
Eleven years ago, the Seattle Sounders GM and president of soccer had a similar role with Real Salt Lake, and in 2011 the squad he put together was on the cusp of history. The final of that year’s CONCACAF Champions League pitted RSL against Monterrey, and an 89th-minute goal from Javier Morales secured a 2-2 away draw and put Salt Lake in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t to happen. RSL squandered some glorious chances in the return leg, while then-Chile international Humberto Suazo netted the game-winner in first-half stoppage time, pouncing on a loose ball in the box.
On Wednesday, Seattle will find itself in an almost identical scenario to Real Salt Lake when it squares off against Pumas in the second leg of this year’s CCL final. A stoppage-time penalty from Nicolas Lodeiro helped the Sounders secure a 2-2 draw in the first leg. Now it is the Sounders who are in a position to make history, and become the first MLS team to win the CCL since 2002, when the format changed to involve home and away fixtures in the knockout rounds.
“It’s a little sense of deja vu,” Lagerwey told ESPN. “Obviously, we want a happy end to this movie. “
He said, “It’s our chance to immortality, doing something no one’s done before that will be cherished forever. “
There have been close calls ever since RSL’s near miss. CF Montreal reached the final in 2015. Toronto FC was a penalty-kick shootout away from triumphing in 2018. LAFC came close in 2020, although the pandemic meant those games were played on U.S. soil.
CCL futility has remained. However, much has changed in MLS over the years, namely the spending of the league’s teams and the roster composition. According to data provided by the MLS Players Association, in 2011, RSL’s total guaranteed compensation for that season was $3. 32 million. It’s easy to dismiss this as a sign of a team that is more frugal than Seattle, which was $3.4 million. In 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, Seattle’s total guaranteed compensation is $13. 59m, more than four times RSL’s 2011 amount. That is by no means the highest mark either, with teams like Toronto exceeding $20m some seasons. All of this has allowed MLS sides to creep closer to their Liga MX counterparts.
ESPN television analyst Herculez Gomez made a habit of tormenting MLS sides in the CCL when playing for Santos Laguna and Tijuana in the early- to mid-2010s. He notes that the depth in MLS teams is much different than when he played. He said that there was a significant difference between players at that time. “Players 1-8, you’re like, “Hey, these guys can do it!” They are very good. Nine through 16, back then, you’re like, ‘They’ve never played in a big game. They have never won anything in life. They don’t make any money. It’s obvious that there is a stark contrast. It was a deer in headlights look from many of these players. It was over, you knew.
” Now, I think that’s different. You can dig into the bench and it’s a 12th, 13th, 14th guy, and you’re like, ‘These are very good players. The era of targeted allocation money has had a significant effect on the amount of money that teams can spend and on which part of their roster. The quality of depth has been improved by the addition of academy graduates to Seattle. That includes on-field contributions from homegrowns like Jackson Ragen and Obed Vargas, who have each played in multiple CCL games. Their impact also affects the calculation of the salary cap. Lagerwey stated that a steady pipeline of players will allow you to build a more efficient team within the salary cap.
He points out that Seattle has 12 players on the roster age 23 or under, half of those are age 20 or under, and these are individuals who can legitimately contribute. This has a ripple effect across the roster. Lagerwey estimates that academy graduates “save” the team approximately $1 million in cap space.
” It allows you to spend more money on top players and reduce your budget. He said that the academy’s impact was responsible for a lot of the rise in salaries. “And that was always the disparity. It was Mexican clubs that could pay more to their starting rosters. Now we can really go toe-to-toe on depth, too, because these kids who come through have all played multiple years in your program. “
These investments have been made for many years. It’s only a matter of time or if that steady drip will build up to the point that it eventually reaches the dam in the form a CCL title. There will always be questions, even if it happens. Liga MX has a significant advantage. Since the CCL began using a home-and-away format in 2002, Mexican clubs have prevailed over their MLS counterparts 42 times in 53 attempts.
Since the advent of TAM, the record for MLS sides is better — nine wins in 31 tries — but still sizably in Liga MX’s favor. However, it seems that Wednesday’s matchup favors Seattle. Pumas doesn’t have the funding that it once had, with the likes of Club America and Tigres still well on top in that category. Instead, it relies on its academy and the occasional diamond that is available on the transfer market. All of this makes Wednesday’s second-leg an opportunity to make history. There is the impact a capacity crowd — as of this writing there are less than 1,000 tickets left — could have on Seattle’s bit to host games at the 2026 World Cup. The Sounders organization would also benefit greatly.
” “I think it’s a game-changer,” Lagerwey stated. “If we can win this thing, then we’re able go play meaningful games with European champions [in the World Club Cup], and other things like that. When you think about player recruiting and how to build the team and staff going forward, I think it’s hard to conclude that being on that global stage will benefit the Sounders and the community of Seattle. “
Lagerwey described preparing for a Club World Cup as a “champagne problem,” but first things first. The Sounders hope Wednesday will bring some conspicuous drinking.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.