Seattle ready for challenge of proven Dynamo
By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
If not for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, Sigi Schmid might hold some serious concerns about how the expansion Seattle Sounders FC will handle the raised intensity of the Major League Soccer playoffs.
But with one tournament title already in the trophy case of the first-year franchise and names like Ljungberg and Keller on the field, Schmid feels pretty confident about the Sounders’ first MLS playoff trip.
“Even though that is not the MLS playoffs it is still a knockout competition,” Schmid said about Seattle’s run to the U.S. Open Cup championship in September. “So having had that success to build upon in pressure situations we realized we have been in do-or-die and knockout games and we have been able to come out on top.”
The Sounders will become the first expansion team to make a playoff appearance in 11 years when they host Houston in the first leg of the home-and-home first-round series on Thursday night.
Seattle is hoping for a repeat of 1998 when the expansion Chicago Fire ran their way to the MLS Cup championship. If the Sounders are able to match the Fire’s run, they would be playing for the league title on their home field Nov. 22.
For now, the Sounders are simply concerned with the Dynamo, whom they went 2-0-1 against in three matches this season. But it’s Houston that holds a decided advantage in playoff experience.
“They have been the dominant team in the Western Conference for a number of years now. They’re a veteran team. They know how to get to championship games and they have done it before,” Schmid said. “So we are the new kids on the block. We are the upstarts.”
Still, it’s a fatigued Dynamo team that will be coming to Seattle for the first-leg, playing their fourth game in 12 days. Houston lost 3-2 at Isidro Metapan in the CONCACAF Champions League on Oct. 21, then traveled to Southern California and beat Chivas USA 3-2 in the regular season finale last Sunday.
Instead of traveling back to Houston, the Dynamo remained in Southern California before traveling to Seattle for the playoff opener.
Meanwhile, Seattle will not have left home since playing at Kansas City on Oct. 17. The second-leg of the first-round series will be Nov. 8 in Houston.
“It’s definitely not disadvantageous for us,” Schmid said. “It’s that time of the year when it’s the playoffs and it’s sort of like players suck it up and move on. If you have to fly back and train on the same day then it’s like let’s get this done because we are in the playoffs. If we have to get up early to fly then just take care of it because it’s the playoffs. So I think players sort of have that attitude this time of year.”
Until the season finale against Dallas, the Dynamo were the last team Seattle had any success against at home. The Sounders went through a run of four straight home games without a goal, until they netted a pair in the second half of their 2-1 win over Dallas to wrap up the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Before those two goals, the last time Seattle scored at home in an MLS match was July 11 in a 2-1 win over the Dynamo, when defender Patrick Ianni scored on an unlikely bicycle kick in the first minute of the second half. From there, Seattle went 375 minutes at home without a goal until Nate Jaqua’s in the 62nd against Dallas.
“We don’t fear anybody. We are very confident against whoever we play,” Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “It’s just so nice to get that monkey off of our back, the home goal drought and results.”
Seattle also beat Houston 2-1 in overtime in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, and pulled out a 1-1 draw with the Dynamo in August when Jaqua scored the equalizer against his former team in the 70th minute.
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