The Seattle Sounders were the best team in Major League Soccer from March through October, but that doesn’t mean much as they head into November and the MLS Cup playoffs.
Still, it’s not meaningless.
MLS rewards its higher seeds and punishes the lower qualifiers in ways that could matter when the top-seeded Sounders and fourth-seeded FC Dallas begin their Western Conference semifinals series at 6 p.m. Sunday.
For one thing, the two-game aggregate-score series begins in Texas, meaning the decisive second game will be played in Seattle.
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“You always want to play the second game at home, I think,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Because if there’s overtime, if there’s penalty kicks, you want that to happen in front of your crowd.”
Still, no one wants to build too deep a hole in the first leg. The Sounders did that in 2011 and 2012 when they fell three goals behind in the first legs at Salt Lake and Los Angeles and lost the series 3-2 and 4-2, respectively.
This season also brings a new consideration, as MLS has instituted road goals as the first tie-breaker, theoretically creating more incentive for traveling teams to leave their shells at home.
“It’s not like you’re going to throw everything forward looking for goals because you’re away from home,” Schmid said. “I think we’re going to play the same way. We’ve been a good road team. We’ve got to continue to play that way. The main thing is coming out of Game 1 making sure that you have a chance to win it all in Game 2.”
It could be that the greatest gifts MLS gives its top seeds are fresh legs. Sunday will mark Seattle’s first match since concluding the regular season last weekend at home against Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Dallas quickly went from the regular season to the fourth-fifth knockout match: a 2-1 home win over Vancouver on Wednesday.
“It’s big,” Sounders veteran Brad Evans said. “At the end of the year, the last thing you want to do is play another 90-minute game. … It’s a good mindset. It’s a good thing to put in the back of your head that we’ll be fresh going into this game. Sometimes you get into a game rhythm and it’s a little bit easier, so for them they’ll be telling themselves that. (It’s) a little bit of mind games.”
Dallas also goes into its second playoff match with Je-Vaughn Watson and Andres Escobar already carrying yellow cards from the knockout match. Those cards will carry over, and if either player picks up another on Sunday, he will be ineligible for the decisive second leg Nov. 10 at CenturyLink Field.
“It matters,” Schmid said. “Obviously if any of those guys get a second yellow they miss the second leg and (that) forces them to make changes. But (Dallas coach Oscar Pareja) is the kind of coach who makes changes anyway, so I don’t think that’s going to be overly bothersome to them.”
Finally, Dallas midfielder Mauro Diaz left the bench area during a scuffle in the Vancouver game, and the MLS Disciplinary Committee has fined and suspended him for the Sunday match.
The Sounders trained Friday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila before flying to Texas. They will train Saturday at the Toyota Stadium complex in Frisco, Texas. … Referees have been assigned for the series. Allen Chapman with handle the first leg, while Baldomero Toledo will work the second.