Houston defeated Chivas USA, 3-2, today at the Home Depot Center. The gives the Dynamo the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and pairs them with No. 3 Seattle in the first round of the MLS playoffs. No. 1 Los Angeles will meet No. 4 Chivas. In the East, Supporters Shield-winner Columbus will meet Real Salt Lake, and Chicago will play New England, which qualified today in the final game of the MLS regular season.
ESPN2 has announced that the first game will be played Thursday at Qwest Field. It is believed that kickoff will be in the 7-7:30 p.m. range. And as of now the return game in Houston seems destined for the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 8. However, none of that is quite official yet. The match will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.
“Houston is a quality team,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said in a conference call this afternoon. “They have been there year after year for the last three or four years, and eventually if you want to win the championship you have to beat whoever is thrown in front of you. They are the ones that are there, and they’re our challenge.”
Seattle and Houston have played three times, with the Sounders taking two wins and a draw.
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The Sounders won 2-1 in a regular-season meeting on July 11 at Qwest Field, then 2-1 in a U.S. Open Cup match on July 21 at Starfire Sports Stadium, and the clubs played to a 1-1 draw in the Sounders’ Aug. 23 visit to Houston.
“Each game is a mutually exclusive event,” Schmid said. “… In the Open Cup, different players were on the field than were in the MLS games. It was a different time of the year when we played them in July. When we went back there and played in August, time has passed and they have changed their personnel a little bit and we changed our starting personnel a little bit.”
The first round of the MLS playoffs is determined by the combined score of two games. The second game is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 8 at Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus. If the aggregate goals are even at the end of that game, a 30-minute extra time period (divided into two 15-minute halves) will be played. If the total score remains even, the series will be determined by penalty kicks.
“You approach it like it’s one big long game with the first 90 minutes in Seattle and the second 90 minutes in another city,” Schmid said. “My concerns are just when you are at home first you want to get a good result. Some teams put too much pressure on themselves when they are at home for the first game. They push the envelope too quickly and all of a sudden they put themselves in a bad situation.”
The winner advances to the Western Conference final, which is a single game played at the home of the higher seed.
The MLS Cup championship game will be played Nov. 22 at Qwest Field. Sounders playoff tickets sold out within 30 minute of putting them on sale Saturday. However, Sounders officials have decided to make an extra 3,000 tickets available by opening the lower section of the upper deck. Ticket information is available at soundersfc.com.
Running: Houston has a 3-2 second-half lead over Chivas in the final minutes at the Home Depot Center. And with the final whistle, the Sounders will know their final regular-season positioning and their playoff seeding and first-round opponent and opening site.
Here's the deal:
Houston win: Houston finishes second, Sounders third, and their playoff series begins at Qwest Field, probably on Thursday.
Chivas win: Chivas finishes second, Sounders third, and their playoff series begins at Qwest Field, probably on Thursday.
Draw: Sounders finish second, Houston third, and their playoff series begins at Robertson Stadium at a date to be determined.
Considering the considerable stakes, it would be nice to be able to watch. But this game is available only to the chosen few with TeleFutura. For the rest, there's just the slow agony of the MLS Match Center.