A preview of the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
The MLS postseason is finally here. Take a look at what's lies ahead over the season's final month.
Sounders FC has reached the playoffs in each of the club’s first five seasons. However, Seattle will face a new challenge against the Colorado Rapids as the two teams meet in the Knockout Round on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field. It will be the first time Seattle will play in the wild card round after the playoffs were adapted to its current, 10-team format in 2011.
Where Seattle finished to reach its fifth consecutive postseason berth is less important to the club than the fact that it is still in the running for the MLS Cup.
“We said the most important thing is you have to be invited to the dance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re first, second, third, fourth, or fifth,” Schmid said of his fourth-seeded Sounders. “There’s enough ability and enough talent there that we can go ahead and do that. Our team will be ready to play.”
Both Seattle and Colorado will come into the match on short-rest after the Rapids fell 3-0 to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday in Vancouver and Seattle played the LA Galaxy to a 1-1 draw at CenturyLink Field to close out the regular season.
Colorado is back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus last season. In 2011, the Rapids lost in the Conference Semifinals after winning in the Knockout Round and in 2010 they won MLS Cup. They come into the postseason as the No. 5 seed with a 14-11-9 record (51 points), but were just 1-4-2 in their last seven road matches and went 4-8-5 away from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on the season.
Seattle, meanwhile, went 10-2-5 at CenturyLink Field for the best home record in club history.
“It is something that both teams have to do, and it is better for us to play at home,” forward Clint Dempsey said of the short turnaround. “It is always good to play at home in front of the fans here. Hopefully they will be behind us and push us on through.”
Playing with a quick turnaround is nothing new for Seattle. This season alone, the Sounders played nine MLS matches with fewer than four days of rest, going 5-2-2 on short rest.
“We know how to train for a game in three days and that isn’t an issue at all,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said. “Of course everybody will need a special energy for playoffs. We know a lot of the fans that were here today are going to be in the stands on Wednesday to cheer us on. It is big that we at least have this game at home.”
Seattle will also have the benefit of bringing players back from injury. On Sunday, Eddie Johnson returned to the starting lineup after missing the previous three matches to injury. Djimi Traore made just his third start in the final eight matches of the season. With the playoffs already clinched, Schmid also opted to rest Obafemi Martins, Mauro Rosales and Leo Gonzalez on Sunday, playing Rosales in the final 12 minutes.
Those absences, according to Traore, had a lot to do with Seattle’s four-game losing streak heading into the final match of the regular season.
“We never lost anything from the team. It was only a matter of getting everybody healthy and now we can see the end of the tunnel—everybody is ready and everybody is there to play for the playoffs,” Traore said.
The postseason also gives Seattle a chance to cleanse that tough stretch and start anew with a clean slate in the playoffs, reminding the team that both MLS Cup finalists last year came through the Knockout Round.
“We put the past away, and part of being a professional is putting things away and being able to not be distracted by outside things,” defender DeAndre Yedlin said. “We’re just staying focused, and hopefully everything goes well.”
Sounders FC will host the Rapids on Wednesday with kickoff set for 7:30 pm PT. The winner will advance to face the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Playoff tickets will go on sale Monday at 10 am PT, through www.SoundersFC.com or by calling 800-745-3000.