When the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders FC step onto the pitch at CenturyLink Field at 1 p.m. Saturday, they will be joined with Los Angeles in a three-way tie for third place in the Western Conference of Major League Soccer.
There’s still a lot of soccer to go in a regular-season that reaches almost to Halloween. However, any clubs even in the standings at the end of the 34-match marathon will be separated by new criteria that reward offense.
“A team like L.A. that scores a lot of goals and gives up a lot of goals gains an advantage,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said today. “So, you can actually have a negative goal differential and you can be seeded ahead of somebody you’re tied with because you scored goals. Obviously, that’s the emphasis the league wants to put on it. But it’s not going to change how we approach a game on a game-by-game basis.”
In a procedure announced last week, ties in playoff positioning will be broken first by most total goals scored, then by goal differential. After that, in order: fewest disciplinary points, most road goals scored, greatest road-goal differential, most home goals scored, greatest home goal differential, and finally coin toss (two teams) or drawing lots (three or more).
Going into this weekend, the Galaxy has 44 goals, the Sounders have 32 and the Whitecaps 28. However, Seattle’s goal differential is plus-8, L.A.’s is plus-4, and Vancouver’s is minus-3.
“For us right now, the thing is points and not to be tied with anybody,” Schmid said. “So (the Vancouver game offers) three very important points. It’s a West Coast team, it’s a rival, it’s a six-point game, we’re tied with them right now, we’ve got some games in hand. But if we can get the three-point cushion and keep those games in hand, it makes it all the better.”
This season there is a heightened advantage to third place over fourth or fifth, because those final two qualifying clubs in each conference meet in a single loser-out game for the right to face the conference’s top seed. Meanwhile, the second- and third-place finishers meet in a two-game, home-and-away, aggregate-score series.