Major League Soccer’s new playoff formula was built to reward higher seeds, but it might not have worked out that way for the series that begins today between No. 3 Sounders FC and No. 4 Los Angeles.
The Galaxy opens the series at home and with an extra day of rest, while the Sounders’ have been traveling more than training since advancing Thursday at Real Salt Lake.
“There’s time when you could say, ‘OK that would give an advantage to L.A. because it’s been a lot more hectic with our travel day when they’ve been settled down and got back home after their game on Wednesday,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “... They were sleeping in their own beds, they’re settled.”
Schmid said that in a Saturday morning conference call squeezed between clearing security and boarding the team charter to California.
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However, he added a positive spin to the Sounders’ situation.
He figures his players were flying high – even before boarding that jet – due to their series-clinching 1-0 win at RSL. And when his team has forward momentum, the last thing Schmid wants is a lull to break it.
“Sometimes when things are hectic you get on a roll and you keep rolling forward and you keep going,” he said. “You sort of just, ‘Hey, just another day, and let’s get it done and lets more on.’ … I think the most important thing is not overly focus on it. Take what comes at you … and turn it into a positive.”
After a couple of low-seeded MLS Cup winners in recent years, the league reconfigured a playoff format built to reward achievement over the 34-game regular season. Only the top five finishers in each conference qualified. The fourth and fifth finishers had to meet in a single-elimination play-in game. Meanwhile, the top seeds were allowed to await their reward of playing the lowest-seeded survivor – with more rest and with home-pitch advantage.
Well, it sounded good at the time.
As things turned out, top-seeded San Jose was eliminated on its home pitch against Los Angeles, while second-seeded RSL went down on its home pitch to Seattle.
Something similar happened in the Eastern Conference, where No. 2 seed D.C. United opens its series today at No. 5 seed Houston for the right to meet the Western champion in MLS Cup on Dec. 1.
It remains to be seen if that extra play-in game finally catches up with either the Dynamo or Galaxy.
“When you have players like that – with that much international experience and that kind of veteran savvy – the additional game, they know how to manage those situations,” Schmid said. “They pick and choose, maybe, their moments on when to run, when to make your movements and then make them a lot more impactful. That comes with experience. I’m not worried about them playing the extra game right now.”
One area where a longer break might have benefited the Sounders is in terms of health. Schmid indicated that midfielder Mauro Rosales (hamstring) and defender Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) are both doubtful for today, although both are expected back for the resolution game Nov. 18 in Seattle.
However, Schmid said forward Eddie Johnson, who returned at RSL after a leg injury, and midfielder Christian Tiffert, who suffered a head cut in that game, are both available.
The bigger consideration might simply be the general fitness of players who went long minutes in Utah.
“It might determine a couple of personnel decisions, in terms of who we play or start just because of the turnaround and the game being quicker from the last game,” Schmid said.
“So it might determine that part of it, but overall it’s not going to be a major impact on our decision.”
NO. 3 SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC AT NO. 4 LOS ANGELES GALAXY
6 p.m., Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: ESPN. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
REGULAR SEASON LEADERS: For Seattle – G 14, Eddie Johnson; A 13, Mauro Rosales; S 126, Fredy Montero; SOG 46, Montero; GAA 0.73, Michael Gspurning. For L.A. – G 16, Robbie Keane; A 14, Landon Donovan; S 94, Keane; SOG 43, Keane; GAA, 1.33, Josh Saunders.
HEAD TO HEAD: Los Angeles leads 4-3-2 in MLS regular-season play. The Sounders swept at home this season: 2-0 on May 2 and 4-0 on Aug. 5 but lost, 1-0, at Home Depot Center on Oct. 28. The Galaxy won the only previous playoff series, in the 2010 first round.
NOTES: This is first of a two-game, aggregate-score series for the MLS Western Conference championship. The series winner advances to the MLS Cup final Dec. 1. … Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales and defender Leo Gonzalez are doubtful for today but are on pace to play in the return leg. ... Sounders defender Marc Burch is unavailable after being fined and suspended for three games by the league Saturday for his use of a gay slur during the Real Salt Lake match Thursday. He issued an apology through the club Friday. ... Seattle’s Brad Evans, Jeff Parke and Osvaldo Alonso are one caution away from yellow-card suspension, as are the Galaxy’s David Beckham and Omar Gonzalez. … The referee is Jair Marrufo. … A sellout crowd of around 27,000 is expected.
QUOTABLE: “We’re playing our third game in basically eight games, and I think (the Galaxy) are playing their fourth game in 10. Early on in the game they’re going to come at us for sure because that’s just the way (coach Bruce Arena) is, and that’s the way they’ll be. I think they’ll tire a bit in the second half, and hopefully that will come to our advantage.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
NEXT: The series concludes at 6 p.m. Nov. 18 at CenturyLink Field.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com/soccer