Seattle Sounders FC opens its two-game, aggregate-score first-round MLS playoff series against the Houston Dynamo tonight at Qwest Field.
And if you’re not completely certain what all of that means, well, you’re not alone.
“I need to check totally how it works here,” Sounders designated player Freddie Ljungberg said this week. “In Europe, away goals count extra. And I think in some ways it hurts when it doesn’t do that in America. I have to revalue, I think, how we approach the game.”
Away goals have no extra value in Major League Soccer.
The winner of this series will be the team with the most total goals over the two games: tonight in Seattle and Nov. 8 in Houston. If total goals are even after the second game, there will be 30 minutes of extra playing time. If goals remain even, the series will be decided by penalty kicks.
The winner goes on to the one-game Western Conference final, and that winner goes on to MLS Cup on Nov. 22 at Qwest Field.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid says it makes sense to approach tonight as the first half of a 180-minute contest.
These clubs already have 300 minutes of history, with Seattle winning twice at home – one decided in overtime – and drawing in Texas. But Schmid said that doesn’t mean much now.
“It’s good that we know it’s a team that we can beat because we have had those past experiences,” he said. “But on the same token, we have got to forget about it because what has happened in the past doesn’t matter. All that’s important is what happens (tonight) and what’s going to happen (Nov. 8) in Houston.”
Houston has the advantage of postseason experience. This is the Dynamo’s fourth straight playoff appearance, and the club won MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007. Over 10 all-time playoff games, Houston has outscored its foes 16-11.
The Dynamo has seven active players who have started at least 10 playoff games. Forward Brian Ching, from Gonzaga, is the team’s all-time leading playoff scorer with five goals.
Meanwhile, the expansion Sounders have only six players who have appeared in the playoffs with other MLS teams: Tyrone Marshall, Peter Vagenas, Brad Evans, Nate Jaqua, James Riley and Tyson Wahl. However, Schmid has more MLS playoff victories (19) than any other coach, and he has won the MLS Cup with Los Angeles and Columbus.
“It’s always going to be just a little more difficult because we don’t have the history to lean on,” Schmid said. “We don’t have the combined experiences as a group. Even though individually some guys have had successes and won MLS Cups on their old teams and doing it in different ways or in Europe and so forth. But as a group we have not had that experience. When you have that experience as a group it makes you a little bit stronger, you can lean on that. As an expansion team you just have to get over that.”
The clubs’ regular-season paths to this point were almost reversed.
Houston started 0-2-2, then didn’t lose from early April to late June, shooting to the top of the league. However, the Dynamo dropped to second in the West by going 2-2-4 over its last eight games.
Seattle won its first three games, hit a midseason dip that suddenly put the playoffs in danger, and then finished with three straight wins to finish third in the conference, one point behind Houston.
That made the Sounders the first MLS expansion team to make the playoffs since 1998. And it sets up what general manager Adrian Hanauer sees as a fitting encore for what has been a joyous first season.
“Certainly punctuating the season with a playoff appearance does feel justified and to some degree satisfying for all the work that was put in from everyone whether it’s coaches, players, management,” Hanauer said. “Everyone’s put in a lot of work, and our fans as well. It’s just great to reward them with hopefully a fairy-tale ending to a fairy-tale expansion season.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
HOUSTON DYNAMO (13-8-9, 48 points) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (12-7-11; 47)
Kickoff: 7 p.m., Qwest Field.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head-to-head: Seattle is 2-0-1 against the Dynamo. In the regular season, Seattle won at home on July 11, 2-1; and drew in Houston on Aug. 23, 1-1. The Sounders also won a U.S. Open Cup match in Tukwila on July 21, 2-1.
Team leaders: For Houston – G 8, Brian Ching; A 12, Brad Davis; S 46 Davis; GAA 0.97, Pat Onstad. For Seattle – G 12, Fredy Montero; A 9, Freddie Ljungberg; S 86, Montero; GAA 0.92, Kasey Keller.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “They know how to get to championship games, and they have done it before. So, we are the new kids on the block. We are the upstarts. It’s been a real good competition in the games we have played them and it’s going to be a hard, tough series.”
Notes: This is the first game of a two-game aggregate-score series. The team with the most total goals over the two games will advance to the Western Conference championship. … Houston finished second in the conference, one point behind Los Angeles and one point ahead of third-place Seattle. … Kasey Keller (ankle) and Fredy Montero (flu symptons) returned to practice Wednesday and are expected to start tonight. … This is Houston’s fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs, and the Dynamo won MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007. Seattle is the first MLS expansion team to qualify for the playoffs since 1998. … Houston went 1-4-2 over its final seven road games.
Northwest ties: Backup goalkeeper Tally Hall is from Gig Harbor. Starter Pat Onstad is from British Columbia. Craig Waibel played for the USL Sounders and UW. Cam Weaver played for the USL Sounders and Seattle U. Mike Chabala played at UW. Ching played at Gonzaga. Coach Dominic Kinnear played for the USL Sounders.
Tickets: Scattered singles remained Wednesday.
Next: The series will conclude at noon Nov. 8 at Robertson Stadium in Houston.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune