The San Jose Earthquakes began selling on Wednesday the remainder of the tickets available for their first playoff game at Buck Shaw Stadium. Season ticket holders snatched up nearly 80% of the tickets in an exclusive presale that started earlier this month, and the remaining 20% of tickets were expected to sell out quickly.
But when will the Earthquakes be playing that playoff game? While the schedule for the MLS postseason was announced many months ago, the specific day and time for the Earthquakes first home game of the postseason will not be determined until the final Western Conference playoff seedings are established. However, a look at the MLS standings makes it pretty clear who will be number one in the West.
Going into the last four weeks of the season, the Earthquakes have a comfortable 11 point lead over second place LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. The Seattle Sounders, who have a game in hand on San Jose, currently sit in fourth, 12 points back of the leaders. And while the Earthquakes haven’t mathematically secured the top spot, they can realistically be crowned the 2012 regular season Best-in-the-West.
The new playoffs format this postseason call for a two-game aggregate series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg and the higher seed hosting the second leg, in each of the Conference Semifinal and Championship round. In both rounds, by virtue of their expected finish as the number one seed, the Earthquakes would host the second game in each series.
With that in mind, and extrapolating the finish of the second through fifth postseason qualifying teams in the conference based on their points-per-game averages, the MLS Cup Playoffs schedule in the West starts something like this (note: the two possible dates for each game are already determined, but the exact assignment of one day or the other has not been announced by MLS):
First Round Wildcard match (Wednesday, October 31 or Thursday, November 1):
Real Salt Lake (4) at Vancouver Whitecaps (5)
Conference Semifinal First Leg (Saturday, November 3 or Sunday, November 4):
San Jose Earthquakes (1) at RSL/VAN winner
Seattle Sounders (2) at LA Galaxy (3)
Conference Semifinal Second Leg (Wednesday, November 7 or Thursday, November 8):
RSL/VAN winner at San Jose Earthquakes (1)
LA Galaxy (3) at Seattle Sounders (2)
After the Semifinal round, the seeds are reset between the two teams that remain based on their regular season finish. For example, the Earthquakes would continue to hold the number one seed if they win their Semifinal match-up. However, if San Jose loses, the winner of the #2 vs. #3 seed Semifinal match-up would assume the top seed in the Conference Final.
Presuming that the top two seeds — San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders go through, the remaining games of the Western Conference playoffs would be scheduled as follows:
Conference Final First Leg (Saturday, November 10 or Sunday November 11):
San Jose Earthquakes (1) at Seattle Sounders (2)
Conference Final Second Leg (Saturday, November 17 or Sunday November 18):
Seattle Sounders (2) at San Jose Earthquakes (1)
Whichever team survives the West will be crowned Conference Champion and face the winner of the East in the MLS Cup Final. As was done after the Conference Semifinal round, the two teams remaining in the playoffs would be reseeded based on regular season finish, and the better seed would host the winner-take-all one game Final.
Presuming, again, the two current projected top seed in each conference survives, the MLS Cup Final would be scheduled as follows:
MLS Cup Final (Saturday, December 1):
Sporting Kansas City (2) at San Jose Earthquakes (1)
At least in the case of the San Jose Earthquakes, which appears destined to finish at the top of the Western Conference regular season standings, their playoff schedule seems pretty much certain. So go ahead and grab your calendar and circle the November (and if you are optimistic, December) dates on which you’ll get to see the Earthquakes make their March to the Cup.