The Seattle Sounders will try to clinch the pennant – no, make that a playoff spot – this evening in Kansas City.
Any confusion is due to the venue, as the Kansas City Wizards have set up shop at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of independent minor league baseball’s Kansas City T-Bones.
The temporary home has the smallest seating capacity in Major League Soccer (10,365). More relevantly, it crams a game-compressingly tight pitch between the foul lines, the right-field wall and some outfield bleachers.
“It’s a difficult field to play on because it’s a small field,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Friday before flying with his team on its final road trip of the regular season. “It’s going to be a bang-bang game because that’s the way it always is there.”
The Wizards were born along with the league in 1996. Their first home was Arrowhead Stadium, the massive facility of the NFL Chiefs across the state line in Missouri. Then a construction project forced them into the Northern League baseball park, which is viewed as a temporary home while trying to secure a permanent soccer-specific stadium. Those plans remain unsettled.
But while CommunityAmerica is small, the stakes of today’s game could hardly be bigger for both teams.
A Sounders victory clinches a playoff spot, while eliminating Kansas City. But even a win might not be enough to save the Wizards, who must win both remaining games and hope New England gains no more points this season and no team between Kansas City and the Revolution tops 38 points.
Seattle also could clinch a playoff spot today even with a draw, depending on results of other games.
Or the Sounders could clinch a playoff spot with a win next week in their final regular season game, at home against FC Dallas.
But they would much prefer to take care of business today, reducing next weekend’s finale to a matter of seeding rather than their postseason lives.
“The guys know what’s at stake this weekend,” Schmid said. “We want to try to wrap it up this weekend and get the job done. It makes everybody feel better to get that (playoff spot assured). And that’s what we’re going to try to do this weekend.”
It’s not an ideal time for the Sounders to experience the most unusual playing environment in the league. But after experiencing all the other MLS venues, CommunityAmerica is the one that’s left.
“We’ve got to play well on that field,” Schmid said. “ ... Attacking quickly is very important.”
The Sounders altered practices this week to adjust for operating in tight spaces.
“It’s a different game plan than most other places,” said Sounders midfielder Freddy Ljungberg, who never saw anything like this in the English Premier League. “We trained on smaller pitches in training – we made our pitches narrower.
“So the important thing is to play one or two touches and not run around and dribble because then they will get you.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (10-7-11; 41 points) AT KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (8-12-8, 32)
5:30 p.m., CommunityAmerica Ballpark, Kansas City, Kansas.
TV: KONG 6/16. Radio: 97.3-FM, and 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head-to-head: The Wizards handed the Sounders their first loss in franchise history, 1-0, on April 11 at Qwest Field. Seattle defeated K.C., 1-0, on July 7 in U.S. Open Cup play at Starfire Sports Stadium.
Team leaders: For Seattle – G 12, Fredy Montero; A 7, Nate Jaqua; S 76, Montero; SOG 27, Montero. For Kansas City – G 10, Josh Wolff; A 7, Claudio Lopez; S 67, Wolff; SOG 31, Wolff.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “(The Wizards) have to play to win. It’s not a point that they are looking to get. They are playing to win. That should allow the game to be a little more open, and they shouldn’t be bunkered in on the back in any way. That field is difficult. It is a small field. It’s going to be a bang-bang game.”
Notes: There are several scenarios that could get the Sounders into the playoffs, but the most straightforward is a win today, which would automatically clinch. Seattle would become the first expansion team to make the MLS playoffs since Chicago in 1998. ... Meanwhile, anything but a win will eliminate the Wizards from playoff contention. However, it is possible other league results will eliminate Kansas City even before this game kicks off. ... A Sounders win also would be Schmid’s 124th in the league, tying him with Bob Bradley for the MLS career record. ... The Wizards are 4-5-4 at home. Seattle is 4-5-5 on the road. ... K.C. keeper Kevin Hartman (1.32 goals against average) has played every minute of every game this season. ... Seattle defender James Riley (ankle) traveled and is apparently cleared to play. ... Neither team has any players missing due to international duty or yellow-card suspension. However, if Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso, Tyrone Marshall or Riley receives a caution today, he/they would be ineligible for the regular-season finale next week.
Next: FC Dallas, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24, Qwest Field; KONG 6/16.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune