We've arrived at the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, the most urgent of all MLS situations, and let's face it: there's simply some stadiums across the league map that you don't want to tread when the title chase is afoot.
There are certain teams out there that take certain advantages when playing at home. Some feed off the crowd, some host in peculiar conditions and just win, baby. It wasn't easy, but we've tabbed the five stadiums established as the scariest road playoff assignments that could be handed out along the way to the 2019 raising of MLS Cup.
Forget for a moment that it's the highly talented MLS Cup holders that play in the A. Set aside that the Five Stripes backyard-barbecued three meaty challengers by an 8-1 combined count on their way to that title just last year. Heck, go ahead and ignore that Atlanta have won 16 of their last 18 competitive home games, 11 times by multiple goals.
Now that your head is clear, simply imagine chasing Josef Martinez and friends around Mercedes-Benz Stadium while 70,000+ roar at their backs. It's hot, it's intimidating and you surely can't hear yourself think. Good luck to all who must hope their lights don't go out in Georgia.
No one really wants to face Zlatan and his running mates in a one-off. They certainly don't want to end up doing it in Carson. The Galaxy have taken eight straight postseason home games in that building, and are 17-2-1 there all-time. Add in Rose Bowl tilts of yore, and they've also won 27 of the last 31 playoffs matches in the City of Angels.
Of course, the Galaxy will need to beat both Minnesota and LAFC on the road to even have a chance of getting back to their friendly confines. And yes, they closed the home schedule with a thud, leaking four in a loss to Vancouver. But, as they often say, the playoffs are another animal, as evidenced by the Galaxy's imperious postseason home record.
New York City FC
We all know about the cozy dimensions at Yankee Stadium, and it's no secret that potential conference semifinal visitors Toronto FC are the only team that seems immune to the oddness of it. We'll see if that oddness translates to Citi Field, where NYCFC will at least host their first playoff contest, but with the added playoff pressure on any small field, beating City will likely be a tall task, even for the Reds.
If the Cityzens do end up hosting later games at their regular home, they'll have to feel pretty good about their chances. They've won seven of eight, and 11 of 13, in the Bronx. In fact, they've only dropped one competitive game at home all year long. Their most recent match there was a 4-1 message rout of Atlanta. The talented, balanced NYCFC squad has all the right specs to make their castle a fall fortress.
Real Salt Lake
In kicking around possible picks for this list, a colleague noted that no one ever really discusses the altitude at Rio Tinto. They're right, I googled it. It's been a while. Even if RSL are on a 10-2-1 home run with seven clean sheets, and even if they've only lost two of 10 playoff games there, that's not what makes playing in Sandy with everything on the line such a chore.
Let's allow a former RSL midfielder explain the postseason peril. “It doesn’t matter how fit you are,” Andy Williams told MLSsoccer.com back in 2010. “When you get up here [Salt Lake City]... you have to have that extra tank of air for the last 15 to 20 minutes.”
Before Atlanta blew the roof off blowing the roof off, Seattle was typically considered the craziest road trip. When that game falls into the playoff cauldron, one must remain dialed in and cool while 40,000 or so go Rave Green nuts around you.
The numbers back it up. Though last year's home postseason game ended with a tie-dropping penalty kicks defeat, the actual match result was the Sounders' ninth straight playoff win on their turf. They've never lost a conference final game in the Emerald City, and in 17 playoff games there, only the Galaxy and Timbers have ever escaped victorious.