Anybody who has been around the Sounders boat knows what the stakes are now. Win, and we move on. Lose, and we go home (again.) Two playoff berths have been cut short already, as the Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps find themselves suddenly without games to train for. Many sleepless nights await players of both teams, as they wonder what they could have done differently to last for just two more weeks.
There isn't much confidence surrounding the Seattle Sounders and the playoffs anymore. In past years, there was always a feeling that it was their year. This was when the team was going to make the run. But each year the season has been over too soon, left with "just" Open Cups and other memories to reminisce over. This year offers no such consolation prize. The team finished second in the Open Cup and Cascadia Cup, fourth in the Champions League, and seventh in MLS. There is no confidence. Only desire remains.
Tonight (or last night, depending on when you read this) will be remembered either as the first step towards relieving a team of a terribly annoying back monkey, or allowing that creature to hop on us, screeching and hollering, for another 12 months. But even though we the fans may be looking forward to what this game will mean for the future, the players need to be looking at the now. There are no days beyond today. No minutes beyond that final whistle. A victory will require 112% focus. This team knows their enemy, and they cannot stop until they hear the lamentations of their supporters.
Or something like that. PLAYOFFS BABY!
Let me get back to those knockout round games for a minute. It is a good thing I didn't put money on the Galaxy-Whitecaps game, because I would have gone hard in on the Whitecaps. Everyone and their... lamp was picking Los Angeles to win, and I've found that when things are that lopsided, the opposite quite frequently happens. Sports are funny. And you know what? Vancouver JUST ABOUT pulled it out. Despite the 2-1 final score, our Cascadian brothers were up 1-0 late and had an excellent chance on goal which would have iced the game. The three VAN players left on the pitch with the best striking ability all got great looks at the goal but couldn't put it away, and all of 30 seconds later, that jerk person Magee put one away to make it 1-1. Baldy took a PK minutes later to give Los Angeles a 2-1 lead, one they now take into their home match versus San Jose. But hey, not bad for a team that finished last in the league last year.
On the other hand, I also would have put money on the Houston Dynamo to take out the Chicago Fire, and sure enough they came through. Seattle's only chance of hosting MLS Cup 2012 persevered, and did so convincingly, heading into a sparsely populated Toyota Park and emerging with a 2-1 victory. They go on to face Kansas City, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Orange emerge from Yellow Wristband Sporting Park in two weeks with plane tickets to DC or New York (My money is on DC).
I shouldn't have singled out the Fire crowd above. Home Depot Center also appeared half empty, and the So-cal folks didn't have the excuse of Halloween to be dressing up as vacant seats. It is hard to sell tickets on four days notice, but those sorts of crowds for games that matter on national television isn't doing the league any favors.
Also included in that above link is the news that the Red Bulls and United (both of which folks in Northeast USA could use right now) have agreed to switch home dates to allow Red Bull Arena and New York fans an extra week of recovery from Hurricane Sandy. excellent sportsmanship from the DC front office, losing what many consider to be a competitive advantage of playing the second leg at home. I have a hard time seeing any other sports league willing to do this for a playoff series.
For the Fire, Whitecaps, and all but eight remaining teams, the days are now filled with the typical offseason talk. That includes the individual player awards, and Prosoccertalk has gone in with two feet, cleats up. Here are their picks for Goalkeeper (Gspurning is second), Defender, Rookie, and MVP (Alonso gets consideration, but I think we all know who the winner was). Still waiting on "Newcomer" and "Comeback".
It is fair to talk about what the Sounders might have been if everyone had been healthy, but it is also important to consider how much worse things could have been. On that note, here is an article quoting the Montreal Impact on their decision to trade Eddie Johnson, and how they almost didn't. YAY, we still have Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito in an alternate universe! 34-0-0!
Speaking of the big guy, he is questionable for the game today. Leo and Ianni are out. I buried this tidbit at the bottom to get more of you to read all the way through. You know who you are. (But wait, if they don't know this is down here, how will they know what they are missing? Hrm...)
I had a lot more, but my compatriots at Sounder at Heart turned those links into full fledged articles. Fine, whatever. Just don't blame me for the morsel of links this week. Send your complaints to DaveClark@Imabigjerk.com.