Has an MLS team ever played in Club World Cup? History of USA and Canada in FIFA club tournament

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The Seattle Sounders are making history as they head to Morocco to participate in the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup.

This year's tournament, officially dubbed "2022" even though it's taking place in February 2023 thanks to delays to other competitions that pushed the schedule back, will feature a Major League Soccer club for the first time ever.

By winning the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League, the Seattle Sounders will become the first American or Canadian club to feature at the event, as Mexican sides had previously enjoyed a stranglehold over North America's slot in the event.

As the Club World Cup will change drastically over the next few years, it's unclear how that will affect North American participation down the road, but for now, the Sounders are the first of what Major League Soccer hopes will be many teams to reach the prestigious FIFA tournament.

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How do MLS teams qualify for the Club World Cup?

There are only two ways to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup in its current format. Of the seven teams that participate in the event, six qualify as winners of their continental championship, while one qualifies as nominated by the host nation.

Therefore, unless the United States or Canada host the Club World Cup, the only way to qualify is by winning their North American club championship, which comes in the form of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Mexican clubs have dominated this competition historically, which is why it has been so difficult for MLS sides to reach the FIFA tournament.

Seattle Sounders first MLS team to play in Club World Cup

The Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to win the CONCACAF Champions League since 2000, and therefore are the first MLS club to qualify for the Club World Cup.

The LA Galaxy were the last MLS side to win the annual CONCACAF club tournament, and while the Club World Cup did technically exist that year, it was in its infancy. The first Club World Cup was held in 2000 — when it was called the FIFA Club World Championship — and did not feature the same qualification rules then as it does now.

Therefore, since the Club World Cup began accepting qualification in its current setup, only Mexican or Costa Rican clubs have been at the FIFA competition. Costa Rican side Saprissa qualified in 2005 as CONCACAF Champions League winners, and then Mexican clubs won an incredible 16 straight continental championships before Seattle's victory last campaign.

Now, an MLS club will reach the FIFA tournament for the first time, and for potentially the last time in its current guise. The Club World Cup will alter its structure in the near future, and little is known about the future of the competition.

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Club World Cup expansion in 2025

In December 2022, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that the FIFA Club World Cup will be altering its structure and schedule significantly in the future.

Currently, seven nations compete in a mini bracket to determine a global club champion. Six clubs qualify as continental title winners from the previous season, while a seventh hails from the host nation.

Moving forward, Infantino announced that the Club World Cup will expand from seven teams to 32 teams and will be held every four years instead of annually. The idea, Infantino said, was to make the Club World Cup look and feel more like the FIFA World Cup: essentially, a World Cup for clubs rather than national teams, as the name suggests.

It's unclear quite what this will look like, especially when it comes to qualification. If the Club World Cup were to feature the continental title winners for each confederation from the past four years, that would amount to 24 clubs, and an additional eight would need to be found elsewhere to reach the given 32. A few of those may come from the host nation, but presumably there will be additional ways to qualify.

It's likely that MLS clubs will participate in future editions of the new-look Club World Cup, given there may be multiple ways to qualify, but for now, the Sounders remain the only club and carry the torch for the league into this year's tournament.

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