Seattle Sounders FC won its play-in game on Wednesday, and it now faces a short turnaround before hosting the Portland Timbers on Saturday. The Major League Soccer playoff schedule does teams no favors this year, with an erraticism caused by accommodating the FIFA November international window.
“Some could call it rhythm; some will call it, you’re playing three games in seven days,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said after the game on Wednesday. “So it all depends how you choose to look at it. I think right now, it’s mind over matter, and you’ve just got to go out there and play.”
The first stretch of the playoffs is particularly brutal. The first leg of the conference semifinals follow the play-in games by three days, and the second legs taking place five days later. Teams that advance to the conference finals have three days until they play again.
“The schedule this year is very awkward, the way it’s set out,” Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “I think the play-in game could take its toll on some teams because it’s going to be a number of games over a 10-day period.”
But just as soon as they start, they stop.
After the first leg of the conference finals, the league takes nearly a two-week break before resuming, which allows U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann to call in whomever he wants for friendlies in Scotland and Austria. Extenuating circumstances of it being the final year of preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup caused the league office to reconsider its plan to play through the November international window.
Other national teams also have matches on their slate, and many playoff teams missed key players at different stretches of the season due to international duty. Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío plays for Costa Rica, and Galaxy forward Robbie Keane traveled to Europe to play for Ireland, besides the multiple U.S. players on the Galaxy, RSL and Sounders.
RSL heads into its first playoff series, against the Galaxy, on the back of a 10-day break.
“I believe it’s our third opportunity this year to have a long break between matches,” head coach Jason Kreis said. “Our guys are a bit used to it. We’ve worked extremely hard. We’ve been able to get in a lot of training sessions.”
After the second leg of the conference finals, finalists have the week of Thanksgiving off before the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7.
“I would say that it’s not the most ideal schedule in the world, but it seems like it never is in this league,” Kreis said.
RSL might be set up best to handle the tough first stretch, coming off that week and a half of rest and avoiding the play-in game. The Galaxy played on Sunday, giving it six days between games, while Seattle played on Sunday and Wednesday before taking the field again Saturday.
However, Schmid refused to make any excuses for his team, and all three coaches pointed out that the schedule is the same for each franchise.
“There’s no tomorrows,” Schmid said. “You’ve got to go out there and play.”