Sounders FC is leaving any complaints about the MLS playoff system to others.
As the club returned to training Monday in Tukwila, there was no grumbling about the system, which rewarded the league’s seventh- and eighth-ranked teams with lesser opponents while pitting sixth-ranked Seattle against top-ranked Los Angeles.
“In the end we were fine with whatever matchup we had, and we’re looking forward to taking on the Galaxy,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “And obviously we owe them. They thumped us pretty good a couple of times this year, and it’s a good opportunity for us to show them and show the world that we’re a different team than we were in the beginning of the season.”
During the regular season, Los Angles swept the Sounders, winning 4-0 in Seattle in May and 3-1 at Home Depot Center in July.
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“I think the motivation for us is definitely there,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “ We got a chance to go up against the Supporters’ Shield winner. And if you want to win a championship, you are going to have to beat a team like that eventually.”
Every member of the Sounders interviewed Monday picked up that theme. They stressed that they are respectful of the Galaxy, but not intimidated. Several mentioned that the loss in Carson, Calif., marked the low point of the season, but that Seattle had a better record than Los Angeles from then on.
“L.A. made such a strong start, and we made such a strong finish,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “ The slate is wiped clean, and it’s just a case of four games away from getting a championship. It’s not too far.”
That MLS power shift to the West is what caused the inequity in the pairings. The top two seeds in the East bracket go to the Eastern champions and runner-up, and likewise in the West. Then the remaining four teams, regardless of conference, fill out the field. However, since six teams from the West qualified this season, it is the final two finishers that switch conferences.
That means that two teams that finished below Seattle in the West – Colorado and San Jose – move to the East where they will meet opponents that finished below Los Angeles – Columbus and New York, respectively.
Hanauer said the topic is sure to be reviewed by MLS during the offseason.
“There is a pretty strong movement to explore the playoff system – not just from us,” he said. “ But I don’t think any playoff system is perfect, and it always seems to bother teams the most when it disadvantages them as opposed to them reaping the benefits. I don’t have really strong feelings about a new system that I see as the perfect system, but I know we’re anxious to have those discussions.”
Hanauer said the Sounders understand that their Halloween evening start time against the Galaxy isn’t ideal for some fans. However, the organization is embracing the holiday by holding a costume contest at Occidental Park before the March to the Match, by creating a soccer-themed haunted house in the stadium’s north parking lot, and by handing out trick-or-treat bags to the first 10,000 children into the stadium. More than 30,000 tickets have been sold. The club has not decided if it will increase its regular-season capacity for the playoffs. “I think we’re going to sort of gauge demand,” Hanauer said. “If we sold out the current capacity immediately I have the feeling we would probably open up more. But we don’t want to open up a piece of the stadium and not have it filled in appropriately.” Last season, a crowd of 35,807 turned out for the Sounders’ lone playoff game at Qwest. This season, the club set an MLS record with an average home attendance of 36,173. San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski won the season’s final player of the week award after recording a hat trick in the Quakes’ 3-0 win over Chivas USA.
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WESTERN CONFERENCE semifinals
Los Angeles vs. Sounders
Sunday: at Seattle, 5 p.m.
Nov. 7: at Los Angeles, 6 p.m.
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas
Saturday: at Dallas, 2 p.m.
Nov. 6: at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m.
EASTERN CONFERENCE semifinals
New York vs. San Jose
Saturday: at San Jose, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4: at New York, 5 p.m.
Columbus vs. Colorado
Thursday: at Colorado, 6 p.m.
Nov. 6: at Columbus, 1 p.m.
Nov. 21: Conference champions at Toronto, 5:30 p.m.