By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Major League Soccer’s new playoff formula was built to reward higher seeds, but it may 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 an 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.
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 move on.’ And sometimes that’s not the worst thing either. I’ve been involved with teams both ways, and 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 the MLS Cup on Dec. 1.
It remains to be seen if that extra play-in game finally catches up with either the Dynamo or the 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 experiences. 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 may 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 being quicker,” Schmid said. “So it might determine that part of it, but overall it’s not going to be a major impact on our decision.”