Convoluted MLS postseason confuses even Sounders FC
Sounders FC has qualified for postseason, but it's still unclear what that means entering Seattle's final home regular-season game Friday against Chivas USA.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Chivas USA @ Sounders FC, 8 p.m., ESPN2
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TUKWILA — With a playoff ticket already punched, Sounders FC players and coaches can finally rest easy looking ahead. Due to a convoluted MLS postseason setup, however, the view is a bit foggy.
Of the eight playoff berths, four go to the top two teams in each conference and four go to wild-card teams. But with more strong teams in the Western Conference, there are several inequities in the projected bracket. The three teams with the league's best records — L.A. Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas — are in the West. Only one can go to the MLS Cup. Conversely, the last teams into the field could have an easier road to a championship going through the weaker East.
Complex? Yes. Confusing? Definitely.
"I have no idea what the hell is going on with this thing," said Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Few do. Yet there's a possibility that Sounders FC, the hottest team in MLS, could end up running into a gauntlet of strong teams in the West.
Unsure if a win, loss or draw would best help its playoff positioning, Sounders FC hosts Chivas USA in the final home game of the regular season at 8 p.m. Friday. It will also be Fan Appreciation Night at Qwest Field.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has little appreciation for the current playoff structure, and Thursday at the Starfire Sports Complex he offered his fix.
"I think one versus eight, two versus seven is better — my opinion," Schmid said, referencing the NBA's seeding structure. "I think that's something the league will look at."
Schmid pointed out one glaring flaw in the current system — No. 7 has a clear advantage over No. 6. The seventh seed could end up hosting a one-game conference final against No. 8. The sixth seed won't have that option.
But Schmid said he tries not to worry about prospective matchups and future results.
"I learned a long time ago that I don't wish for this team or that team," he said.
Sounders FC doesn't expect to change much from its usual approach. With a clean bill of health, Seattle is expected to field a first-team lineup Friday, which could help the team stay hot heading into the playoffs.
"We feel pretty good right now," Keller said. "The way our form has been the second half of the season, it doesn't matter who we play in the playoffs."
In a competitive league, where no team is much better than another, that confidence might be just enough to push Sounders FC past last year's first-round exit.
"It can come down to momentum and getting in a rhythm," midfielder Nathan Sturgis said. "Winning a lot of games recently, it definitely helps."
And due to a perplexing playoff structure, apparently so would that No. 7 seed.
• A knee injury will keep midfielder Brad Evans out for the year, forcing Seattle to play with 23 available players. "The objective right now is to make sure that he's ready for the beginning of next season," Schmid said.
• The home game in Sounders FC's two-leg conference semifinal will be Sunday, Oct. 31, at 5 p.m. at Qwest Field. Tickets go on sale Oct. 21.
• A pregame concert and several giveaways highlight Fan Appreciation Night on Friday.
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