Two-and-a-half weeks separate the Sounders' triumph in the Western Conference semis and the first leg of their conference finals series against Colorado.
Ten days have passed since the Sounders officially punched their ticket to the MLS Western Conference finals with a 2-1 loss at FC Dallas that doubled as a 4-2 aggregate win. Alternatively: that match was roughly 240 hours, 14,440 minutes, the loss of an undefeated season by the UW football team and that of a presidential election by Hillary Clinton ago.
And there’s still almost another week to kill before Seattle finally kicks off the conference finals against Colorado next Tuesday at CenturyLink Field.
The layoff was inevitable — or, at the very least, the result of having to choose between a handful of flawed alternatives.
This fortnight overlapped with a pre-existing international window, when clubs are obligated to release players to national teams for World Cup qualifiers and the like. Unless the league felt like powering through the most important games of its season without a significant chunk of its most vital difference-makers, there was no other choice but to go dark for a bye weekend.
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The break would have been slightly less glaring — emphasis on slightly — had Seattle been able to host Colorado this Sunday as the playoff bracket originally called for. But the Seahawks were already scheduled to play at home that day. Tack on another 24 hours so MLS could avoid the eyesore of having the Sounders play a conference finals match on a field covered in football lines, and here we are.
So, yes, in some ways this two-and-a-half week chunk dug out of the MLS Cup postseason was unavoidable. The Sounders themselves aren’t going to complain about having as much time as possible to heal up Jordan Morris and the rest of their banged-up roster.
That explanation is going easy on Major League Soccer’s insistence on running its season from spring-through-late-fall.
That schedule is contrary to most of the big leagues in the world, in defiance of the FIFA calendar and so often the root of these conflicts. The league office points to the logistical struggle of hosting games in Foxboro and Toronto in the dead of winter, but if the Russian Premier League can figure out how to work a midseason break into a slate that still comes to a head in late May like everybody else, so can MLS.
That explanation is also glossing over the Sounders being a secondary tenant in their own building, but that’s probably an issue for another day.
The fact remains that, for neutrals especially, this year’s MLS Cup playoff schedule slows momentum and deflates enthusiasm every time both gather steam. The additional bye weekend between the conference finals and MLS Cup is even harder to justify, besides the league wanting an extra week to sell tickets and generate hype.
As with much about this league, it’s easy to shrug this all aside when you’re inside the MLS bubble, with a glimpse of the many competing forces at work. Take a step outside, however, and it’s much harder to explain.
Should the Sounders overcome what is sure to be a sturdy and disciplined Colorado Rapids team, the achievement would be exalted around the Puget Sound. Diehards would be especially jazzed, and casual fans would quickly fill up the bandwagon, too. Then they would all have to collectively sit on their hands for two weeks — though should Toronto come out of the East, I suppose that’ll at least give plenty of time for coordinating travel plans to the famed December vacation spot of Ontario.
Should the Sounders finally take the field for an MLS Cup championship game, they will have played two matches in the preceding 32 days. Provide all the rationale you want, the playoff structure that allows for that is more than a little screwy.