CCL 2012-13 Qualifiers: MLS Quarterfinals, Part II

Posted on November 2, 2011 5:25 pm

Last Saturday, the Seattle Sounders took the field in Rio Tinto Stadium, a venue in which they achieved a streak-busting 2-1 victory on their last visit, to face off against the lower-seeded Real Salt Lake. While Sigi Schmid’s side had finished the regular season with a run that led to another US Open Cup championship, Cascadian dominance and the second-best record in Major League Soccer, Real Salt Lake had fallen back into the same kind of hopeless slump in which Monterrey had left them back in April. Kyle Beckerman had just finished sitting out a three-game suspension, while RSL’s talisman Javier Morales had only recently returned to the field after months on the doctor’s table. Whether you value long-term performance over temporary form or vice-versa, Seattle had every right to consider themselves the favorites.

Of course, this is MLS we’re talking about.

RSL played Seattle off the field 3-0, with a performance reminiscent of their imperial 4-1 thrashings of the Columbus Crew (in CCL play) and the LA Galaxy at the beginning of the year. No one is foolish enough to call the series dead (Schmid least of all), but Seattle will have to attack relentlessly in order to make up the deficit in the second leg. Expect 90 minutes of madness (or more).

The return fixtures for all the MLS quarterfinals kick off tonight with Sporting Kansas City hosting the Colorado Rapids at 8:00 p.m. (all times EST). Right after, Seattle will shoot for the miraculous when they host RSL at 10:00 p.m. Tomorrow, the Houston Dynamo will hold serve in potentially their last-ever game at Robertson Stadium against the Philadelphia Union at 8:30 p.m. The LA Galaxy will finish what Marquez started this playoff matchday when they host the New York Red Bulls at 11:00 p.m.

All of the games will be available on TSN2 in Canada. As for the rest of the region, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes will show Sporting KC against Colorado in the US only. The other three matches will be available on ESPN2 in the US; in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the Seattle/RSL game will be shown on ESPN2, while Thursday’s matches will both be carried on ESPN.

The Eastern Conference bracket is not as significant for our purposes as the “Western (plus New York)” side at the moment. Nevertheless, I should point out that Sporting KC will feel confident about their chances of hosting the semifinal/Eastern Conference final in LiveStrong Sporting Park: they hold a 2-0 lead over Colorado’s walking dead (with no fewer than three starters in the Rapids’ defense liable to miss the return leg through injury), and will look to salt away the series without losing any players to yellow-card accumulation. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Union will chase a 1-2 deficit at Houston Dynamo; while this will be only their second playoff game in their franchise’s short history, the Union actually have a perfect record in Robertson Stadium, giving them every reason to confidently chase a victory.

The other two series, however, will directly affect the list of qualifiers (below) over the next two days. If the Sounders fail to overtake RSL, they will logically be unable to finish as the MLS Champion [USA1], although the Galaxy could* hand them the USA2 or USA3 positions should LA double-up on their CCL berths. In the other game, either the LA Galaxy will get overturned by their MLS-appointed arch-nemesis New York, in which case they will no longer aspire to qualifying for the MLS Cup (as in, they would be stuck as USA2), or they will knock out the Red Bulls (hopefully without punches, real or imagined) and return a grateful Real Salt Lake to the continental stage.

Finally, I should mention two things: for those of you unfamiliar with the MLS playoff format, the quarterfinals are a total-goal series with no extra tiebreakers. For instance, if Seattle manages to win 4-1 tonight, then they will head into overtime against RSL – with neither away goals nor higher seeding taken into account. Secondly, the draw for the knockout round of the current (2011-12) CCL will take place next Tuesday. As I have class until 6:00 p.m., I will provide a recap at my earliest convenience.

* Theoretically; there is no precedent for a team pulling off a Supporter’s Shield/MLS Cup double, with the Supporter’s Shield runner-up already qualified for the CCL. My intuition is that Seattle would receive the automatic spot [USA2], while simultaneously handing their Open Cup spot in the CCL prelims [USA4] to Real Salt Lake.

CCL 2012-13 Qualifiers

1. Seattle Sounders [USA2 or USA4]
2. LA Galaxy [USA1 or USA2]
3. Real Salt Lake [USA1, USA3 or USA4]

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