In the wake of a painful loss at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, Seattle Sounders FC players and coaches decided to look ahead.
Although they failed to win a fourth straight U.S. Open Cup, they were quick to point out that there is an important game in San Jose, Calif., this weekend and an important Major League Soccer season to resolve.
We know theres a lot more games, theres a league championship still ahead of us, coach Sigi Schmid said. We can focus on that right now, and weve got to get ready for tonight. Its a big game.
The Sounders return to MLS play at 7:30 p.m. today against the Earthquakes, who have the best record in the league. One of the Quakes wins this season came at Seattle.
Were going to have to deal with San Jose at some point, obviously, to get to MLS Cup (the league championship final match), Schmid said Friday in a conference call from the Bay Area. San Jose has played well, has gotten good results, is the front-running team right now. But now they play all their game against Western opponents. Who knows how many points theyre going to give up or not give up? For us, the Supporters Shield (the best regular-season MLS record) would be a nice thing, and three points here would be nice.
Schmid has always valued MLS Cup the leagues playoff championship over its Supporters Shield. And in a way, the leagues shift to an unbalanced schedule has just emphasized that importance.
However, the Supporters Shield takes on added value to the Sounders now because it offers a path to the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League. Seattle has qualified for three straight CCLs, but those entries came as U.S. Open Cup champion.
With that CCL slot going to Sporting K.C. next season, there are two remaining paths open to the Sounders: advancing to MLS Cup or earning the Supporters Shield. (They also could slide in if the same MLS team qualifies in more than one way, or if a Canadian club takes one of those slots. Then, the U.S.-based MLS club or clubs with the best regular-season records would move into any remaining Champions League slots.)
San Jose leads MLS with 44 points, and Seattle is sixth with 37 points.
While the Open Cup defeat adds incentive to the Sounders long-term quest to catch the Quakes, it also makes their task more difficult today.
Already this month, Seattle has played three games in three competitions: a CCL win over Caledonia on Aug. 2, an MLS win over Los Angeles on Sunday, and the 120-minute Open Cup loss by penalty kicks on Wednesday. Meanwhile, this will be the Quakes first match since a July 31 friendly against Swansea City, and their first MLS game since July 28.
Obviously, it makes a difference, Schmid said. I cant tell you right now exactly what our lineup is. There will be some fresh faces, some guys who didnt play on Wednesday night, for sure. There will be some guys who did play on Wednesday and put in a lot of minutes who will be asked to put in minutes again.
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