Schmid: No place like home for Game 2
and I have to tell you, most coaches would agree with this.
Playing at home for the second game of the playoff series just takes away a lot of uncertainties. When you travel you can have flight problems, delays, cancellations, or just a bumpy ride. On the road you are limited to five substitutes on your bench, while the home team is allowed nine. Both teams can still only use three subs, but as the home team you have a greater pool to choose from. If there is overtime it will be after the second game and if there are penalty kicks it will be after the second game. Those are the reasons coaches prefer to have the second game at home.
This past weekend, the home teams recorded three wins and lost only one. MLS is a league in which there is often not a big difference between being at home or away. Some teams do have a home-field advantage. Due to the altitude, Colorado has an advantage at home, in part physiological and part psychological. The MetroStars have an advantage due to the artificial turf field -- and that's what made D.C. United's victory against the MetroStars all the better. Due to the small size of their field, San Jose has a real home-field advantage, and they used it to the fullest, by pressuring Kansas City and building a two-goal lead.
The fans help greatly to try and create a home-field advantage. When The Home Depot Center is full, it is intimate and loud and can create an edge for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Crew Stadium in Columbus can do the same, but I am sure they would prefer to play their second game against the Revolution this weekend at night, because afternoon games do not create that same feeling. Playing New England on Sunday on ESPN2, in the afternoon, will take away some of the Crew's advantage.
In Washington, D.C., when you see the stands bouncing on the far side and hear the noise, you know you are away from home. Without a doubt, the stadiums in Washington and Los Angeles are the two loudest in the league. No offense to any other fans, but the fans in Chicago have the best songs and most organized support of the entire league. They are very funny and often made me laugh and it truly felt at times like I was in a European or South American stadium.
But, we have to be honest: there is no place in the league that presents a real hostile environment. That is why you see teams play much the same whether home or away. Kansas City is probably the team that plays most differently on the road. Usually they sit back a little more and try to counter more when they are on the road.
When playing internationally, being on the road is a big thing. Just ask the U.S. national team. Different languages and hotel problems are just the start ... and make sure you carry toilet paper to the stadium because the locker rooms rarely have any. In many countries, players receive a bigger bonus if they get a result on the road. Clubs do this to motivate the players to deal with the adversity of travel and the hostile environment they might encounter. That's why you see teams approach the game differently on the road as opposed to a home game.
Back to MLS: Why does the home team still win more games? It's simple. When you are at home you know your routine, you are comfortable, and you are playing in front of friends and family. Within the team and from the coaching staff, it is ingrained that you should win at home and therefore you start to believe that and play a little harder at times.
In the playoffs there is the additional factor that all teams raise their level of concentration. That is why, in general, the games are tightly contested and there are fewer defensive miscues. The extra effort should be there all the time.
Three teams -- the Galaxy, Columbus and Kansas City -- all need to make up a deficit at home this weekend. It is halftime and the second half is being played in their stadium. These teams must attack from the outset. The Wizards face the toughest task being down by two goals. An early goal relaxes the nerves, but an awareness to not expose your team is a real concern, because allowing a goal can be demoralizing.
Finally, there comes a point in the game where one team or the other has to throw all caution to the wind and just take huge chances. It worked for San Jose last year; it might or might not work for someone this year. D.C. United has the luxury of being at home and being able to sit back a little and watch the MetroStars take the risks. It is a nice position to be in -- you just have to ensure you do not become too passive, because it is hard to change momentum once established in these types of games.
Support your team this weekend. It could be the happiest of days or it could be dark and sad. But either way, show your passion during the 90-plus minutes and let your team know you are behind them. Real fans are behind their team all the time.
Sigi Schmid is one of the winningest coaches in MLS history, having led the Los Angeles Galaxy to four honors in his five-plus years at the helm, including the 2002 MLS Cup championship. Send comments to Sigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.