The Sounders finished with the second-best record in the MLS. Their "reward" is playing the third-best team, Real Salt Lake, in the playoffs.
TUKWILA — How unfair is the MLS playoff format?
For starters, heading into the weekend’s conference semifinals, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis sympathizes for his opponent, Sounders FC.
“I think you have to feel particularly aggrieved for Seattle,” Kreis said Wednesday in a conference call, “because after the season that they put together, they’ve had to turn around and play us rather than what should be a wild-card team, really. I think it’s a particularly poor place for them to be.”
The Sounders finished with the second-best record in the league. Their reward is playing the third-best team, RSL.
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But the head-scratching inequities don’t end there.
The league’s top seed, the Los Angeles Galaxy, gets the most difficult travel schedule, having to fly cross-country twice for a series against New York. The teams will play two games, almost 3,000 miles apart, in five days.
Ultimately, the three best teams in the league (and the team with the highest payroll, the N.Y. Red Bulls) are all on the Western side of the bracket. Teams ranked No. 5 through 9 are in the East — clearly with an easier road to the MLS Cup.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said goalkeeper Kasey Keller earlier this season.
Playoff grumbling has been widespread, and the flaws are most obvious due to the league’s balanced schedule. Since each team plays every other team home and away, the conferences serve little purpose and appear to only provide arbitrary advantages in playoff seeding.
So is there a solution?
With Montreal joining MLS in 2012, it’s likely the league will go to an unbalanced schedule next year — a move that might necessitate the use of conferences. Either way, some tweaking to the playoff structure is expected.
“I think that in a growing league it’s almost going to be year-to-year sort of looking at how you do it,” said Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer. “There’s a competition committee meeting coming up real soon. That’ll, I’m sure, be on the agenda.”
Hanauer said the league is always open to changes.
“We’re a small, growing business,” he said. “We want to listen to our customers, and we want to provide the best product possible with the constraints and realities that we deal with.”
• Coach Sigi Schmid said injured midfielder Mauro Rosales (knee) is “very unlikely” to play in Saturday’s road leg of the conference semifinals. Rosales received a platelet injection this week to help speed his recovery, and the team hopes he could be available in Wednesday’s home leg at CenturyLink Field.
• Forward Nate Jaqua (calf) was a full participant in practice Thursday, and midfielder Servando Carrasco (hip) was only slightly limited as the two recover from injury.
• Temperatures are expected to drop into the 40s Saturday in Sandy, Utah. “I don’t think it’s going to impact the game unless it ends up being windy,” said Schmid.