The USL playoff schedule is out, and Atlanta is hosting the first match of their series against Rochester on Friday night before traveling to Rochester for the second leg on Sunday. The Silverbacks, by virtue of their 4th place finish, had the choice and decided to stay at home for the first leg.
There's been some interesting debate over on the USL boards about the decision. One line of reasoning says that by making Rochester travel twice (once down to the ATL, once back), that would give the Silverbacks the advantage. That might fly for me if this series was against Seattle, Vancouver, or Portland. Not Rochester though, a direct flight is just two hours. I doubt that will have much of an effect. Besides, the Rhinos will probably just come down Wednesday night, train lightly on Thursday, play Friday, then head back Saturday morning. Even if they wanted to come down Friday morning, the two hour flight just wouldn't take that much out of them.
Montreal also chose this route, choosing to make Puerto Rico travel twice. It's a little different situation there, most flights connect through Atlanta between the two and it's between a 7 and 8 hour trip. They had to travel twice last year against Vancouver, and that's a little over 5 hour direct flight.
Let's look at the effectiveness of hosting the second leg. In last year's postseason, the team that hosted the second leg did not win any of the four series. One was the aforementioned Montreal/Vancouver series, and another was Miami traveling to Vancouver and back. The second leg hosts only won once in 2005, that being a Seattle/Portland series with short travel. Vancouver struggled with trips to and from Richmond, and Montreal failed with another Pacific trip (this time to Seattle). 2004 was a bit different, with four of the second leg hosts moving on. 2003 saw the same four out of six second leg hosts winning their series. Statistically, it's kind of a crap shoot because I'm not going back to examine how the seeding affects these outcomes (feel free to post it in the comments), but it's pretty much a coin flip on its effectiveness.
The home and away records don't swing this either way, both teams are nearly identical. The best thing there is that Atlanta handled Rochester pretty well this year, winning 2-0 in Rochester and 4-1 in Atlanta. That has to be good for the confidence heading into this series.
Common sense would say that the Silverbacks would have to go hard for the goals in the first leg, and play more conservatively in the second on the road. Although it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, they have been averaging only one goal against them for their last ten games. With McIntosh in good form, you could ride him to the semifinals.
My main concern is giving up the advantage of extra time and penalities taking place at home. You hate to have to think that way, but playoff soccer is notoriously tight. Hopefully, it won't come to that, but you never know. It would be brutal to watch the Rhinos win in extra time or PK's at PAETEC.
The stats give a slight edge to the decision the Silverbacks made, although my gut says that it's the wrong way to go. I hate to put the pressure on the offense in the first game to produce because things will be more difficult on the road. I hate to put the pressure on the defense to bunker and hold a lead for 90 minutes on the road. And that's if things go according to form and Atlanta wins the first leg, I'd definitely hate to have to chase the game in Rochester.
I guess we'll see this weekend, won't we? I hope I'm not singing "I Wanted to Be Wrong" by R.E.M. on Monday. Please fire away with your thoughts in the comments, although it'd be nice to get some names (alter egos are fine) to go with them.
I'm not even getting into this mix-up, other than to see I hate to see the most hardcore fans get stuck in this sort of position.
We'll be back with a USL playoff preview this week, along with predictions.