- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) - Lamar Neagle is torn between tradition and familiarity.

On one hand, Neagle is a midfielder for the Seattle Sounders. And as a soccer purist at heart, Neagle respects how other leagues in the world decide their champions based on the standings at the end of the regular season.

But as someone born and raised in the US, Neagle fully understands the culture and importance of having playoffs.

“Having that American mentality, playoffs mean everything, it doesn’t matter what you do during the season,” Neagle said. “But being a soccer player, it’s conflicting.”

Ultimately, Neagle and the Sounders would like to accomplish both: win the MLS Supporters’ Shield as the best team in the league during the regular season and win their first MLS Cup title. Seattle can accomplish the first goal this weekend when it travels to Los Angeles on Sunday to begin a rare home-and-home set of games to close out the regular season. The return match is on Oct. 25 in Seattle.

The Sounders and Galaxy are tied on top of the MLS Western Conference, both with 60 points. Because they own the tiebreaker - most wins - the Sounders need just one win in the final two games to clinch the Supporters’ Shield for the first time and the No. 1 seed in the MLS playoffs. Even a Los Angeles victory this weekend wouldn’t clinch anything for the Galaxy. Seattle could still take the top spot with a win at home next weekend.

Claiming the regular season title is important, but as Neagle pointed out, the team that win the Supporters’ Shield is often forgotten if it doesn’t follow through in the playoffs.

“They remember who won MLS Cup. That’s just the mentality and culture,” Neagle said.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said the situation is far from optimal and could have been a major problem had the teams ended up meeting in the first round of the playoffs. But with Seattle and Los Angeles already assured of the top two spots in the Western Conference for the playoffs, the odd scheduling works with a unique story to close out the regular season.

“It could have also been a scenario where we played these two games and met in the first round of the playoffs and played four weeks in a row and you guys would all be bored and not know what to write and it would make it a real bad thing and bad stories,” Schmid said. “… It would be a bad situation but now the way it’s turned out. I don’t know if it’s the first time or one of the only times in MLS history you’ve got Supporters’ Shield coming down to the end of the season like this between the people that are competing for it.”

If Seattle can outlast Los Angeles and win the Supporters’ Shield, it would have an opportunity to win the U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup title in the same season, something no MLS team has accomplished in the same year. The Sounders already claimed their fourth U.S. Open Cup title last month, beating Philadelphia in the final.

Neagle said even with the home game in hand, the goal is getting a win in Los Angeles and making the final game nothing more than a tuneup for the playoffs.

“I still think we want to go in and steal it and make it easy on us and come home,” Neagle said. “We would love to have a game at home where we know that we’re winning the Supporters’ Shield no matter what, that we’re going to have it and celebrate at home.”


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