The Sounders have some difficult scheduling and lineup decisions coming soon, as has been well-documented on this site. While I'd like to see them keep the pressure on LA and possibly win the Supporters Shield, I realize that might not be in the cards.
The question I'd like to broach here is: if the Supporters Shield is out of reach, how does the team prioritize their competitions? In the closing weeks of the regular season, could MLS games become a lower priority? Is it okay if that happens?
To be clear, if we remain within shouting distance of the Galaxy (or anyone who overtakes them), this is a moot point, as the chase for the Supporters Shield is a no-brainer top priority. Similarly, staying out of fourth place and avoiding the extra round of playoffs has a tangible value, especially in a parity-driven league.
Sure we'd be the favorites in a play-in game, but a SporKCs or Chivas-type squad is still a dangerous opponent in a winner-take-all contest. Not to mention Red Bull NY is a possible opponent, and even though they might as well have a fan contest to chose their starting keeper each game, I still don't want to face Thierry Henry in a do or die situation.
But let's say we're more or less locked into the 2/3 matchup. LA pulls away from the pack and has maybe a 10-point cushion with a half-dozen games left, while either RSL or Dallas has dropped some points. And let's also say we're off to a promising start in CCL play - maybe five points in our first three games. In that situation, should the team de-emphasize the remaining MLS games and go all out in CCL play?
Another way to put it: how much is a top-two in the West finish (to get the second leg at home), or even top-three (to avoid a play-in game) worth to the Sounders? Is it worth the trade-off of having reserve-heavy lineups in our CCL games? Or is the knowledge we have a secure playoff spot enough?
I think we'd all agree winning the West - and with it the Supporters Shield this season - is worth considerable sacrifice. But barring a surprising run of bad form and/or some serious injury issues to the Galaxy, a month from now that particular piece of hardware may well be the longest of shots.
If we have important games in CCL coming up and some tired legs needing rest, would you want the Sounders to sit some of the regular first-teamers for MLS play in Sept/Oct and save them for CCL games?
On one hand, MLS is the money- and press-maker, and bringing out a reserve-heavy lineup for 36k fans won't sit well with some. On the other hand, with limited roster size and the need to balance player health with advancing in as many competitions as possible, would it be pragmatic and even commendable to go this route?
RSL rested a lot of starters before the second leg against Monterrey, but they were 90 minutes from a trophy and spot in the prestigious Club World Cup. We'd "only" be fighting for advancement out of the group stages. Yet I think in this scenario I'd be disappointed if Flacco, Fredy, Ozzie, etc. (even Kasey the Great) were playing in every MLS fixture and missing some CCL ones.
Am I way off-base here? Overemphasizing the CCL importance? Underestimating the effect of fixture congestion?