As the club returned to training today at Starfire, there was no grumbling about the system, which has rewarded the league’s seventh- and eighth-ranked teams with lesser opponents, while sending the sixth-ranked Sounders against top-ranked Los Angeles.
“In the end we were fine with whatever matchup we had, and we’re looking forward to taking on the Galaxy,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “And obviously we owe them. They thumped us pretty good a couple of times this year, and it’s a good opportunity for us to show them and show the world that we’re a different team than we were in the beginning of the season.”
During the regular season, Los Angles swept the Sounders, winning 4-0 at Qwest Field in May and 3-1 at Home Depot Center in July.
“Excited," coach Sigi Schmid said. "They are a team obviously this season that we didn’t enjoy any success against. But for us then it presents a great opportunity. Excited for our fans. [David] Beckham wasn’t here with them the last time so they get a chance to see Beckham play and a chance again to see Landon [Donovan] and those guys. For us, the exciting part is being in the playoffs.”
Every Sounder I spoke to today picked up that theme.
Steve Zakuani:'I wanted LA from the beginning because I think, first of all, theyr’e a good soccer match up for us. They’re a good team, so are we. You can’t lose in that situation. It’s one for the fans. We’re going to get 35,000-plus fans to come and see Donovan, Buddle, Beckham, some of our players, and it’s just going to be amazing – playing them here and also at the Home Depot. It think it’s a good draw for us. Of course it’s going to be very tough. They beat us twice during the regular season. But I think we owe them one and we’re ready."
Kasey Keller"We have to beat somebody, so we might as well beat LA. But sure, I think that’s probably somewhere in the subconscious that we lost a couple of times to these guys, and we’d like to rectify that."
James Riley:"We would have loved to end on a win in Houston, but that’s behind us now. We’ve got LA next Sunday – Halloween Sunday – so we’re definitely looking forward to that. … Anything can happen. It’s a brand new season. Playoffs, home and away. Anything can happen. Obviously you have respect for LA. They have some guys we have to be aware of: Buddle and Donovan and Beckham. But we also have guys that they should be aware of, so I think it’s going to be a great battle. They’re definitely a very organized team, so we’ll look to find their weaknesses and exploit that. We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing: stay compact defensively, stay together, play with a good spirit, rhythm and tempo."
The pairing came about because of this season's MLS power shift to the West.The playoff system gives the top two seeds in the East bracket to the Eastern champions and runner-up, and the top two seeds in the West to the top two Western finishers. Then the remaining four teams, regardless of conference, fill out the field. However, in this season where six teams from the West qualified, it is the final two finishers that switch conferences.
That means that two teams that finished below Seattle in the West – Colorado and San Jose – move to the East where they will meet opponents that finished below Los Angeles – Columbus and New York, respectively.
Hanauer said the topic is sure to be reviewed by MLS during the off-season.
“There is a pretty strong movement to explore the playoff system – not just from us,” he said. “… But I don’t think any playoff system is perfect, and it always seems to bother teams the most when it disadvantages them as opposed to them reaping the benefits. I don’t have really strong feelings about a new system that I see as the perfect system, but I know we’re anxious to have those discussions.”
As for why the power has shifted West, Schmid wasn't sure.
"That’s a hard one to answer, really," he said. "I think people expected more from Toronto this year. I think this is the second year that we’re playing a balanced schedule, and I think a balanced at the end of the day shows the strength of teams. … I think the last two years, the best teams have gotten into the playoffs, so that’s good. As to why the West is better than the East, I’m not smart enough to figure that out."