Editor’s Note: Much is written about soccer from a host of different people covering the score, the games, the goals, the highlights, the transactions, the rumors, the playoffs, the rivalries and much more.
But cutting through all of that noise, what is it like from the perspective of the player?
In “The Soccer Life,” a periodic series running throughout the 2017 MLS season, we talk with retired Portland Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury about what it’s like down on the pitch. Jewsbury enjoyed a 14-year professional career playing for both the then-Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) and Portland. He became just the 38th player in league history to play 300 games or more and one of just three players in league history to play 150 or more games with only two different clubs in the league.
On the eve of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, this is his first-person account about the challenges of the postseason and more covering the soccer life.
Once the MLS regular season ends and you find yourself heading into the postseason, players are often asked, “What changes when you enter the playoffs?”
Yes, there’s more media and buzz, but as a player, I would argue that we try to keep it as same as possible? In essence, nothing changes!
It might sound clichéd, but the funny thing about making the playoffs is that most teams have been in “playoff mode” long before week 34. With the parity in MLS, things are constantly changing and every single match towards the end of the year carries massive weight. When you think about the latter part of the season, not only are the conference leaders vying for a top seed to guarantee a bye in the Knockout Round, but teams are fighting for their lives just to make it above the playoff line. On the final weekend, teams can be on the outside looking in or sitting in first place of the conference and still have no clue what lies ahead for them. Come Monday morning, are they still playing in a week or are they planning their offseason vacation?
In the case where your team clinches a top seed, such as the Timbers did this season, that comes with an advantage, but it also presents a unique challenge as well.
Of course, the higher seed has an advantage. With a bye past the Knockout Round, players getting a few extra days to heal up and rest, the team doesn’t end up playing the first few games over a short time frame, and more importantly, they get home field advantage for the second and deciding match of the home-and-home series.
However, that all said, when this “second season” starts that we call the playoffs, all previous records, standings and seeds are thrown out the window. The top seeds must quickly realize that the lower seed they are about to face has been getting the job done in do-or-die games. The veteran players who have experienced these moments must relay the message that every game and moment matters. Earn a good road result in a first leg battle and all the hard work you put in during the regular season sets you up in an ideal spot to celebrate a series win when you return to your home turf.
In the end, what makes the MLS Cup Playoffs so entertaining is that as long as you are in, you have a chance.