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Failing to win at home in MLS Cup Playoffs is a recipe for failure

History has shown that teams can rebound from a failure to win their home opener, but it definitely creates long odds for teams like the LA Galaxy, Sounders, D.C. United and Sporting KC.

Victor Decolongon

There's no easy way to put it: the Seattle Sounders, D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy all have their work cut out for them. During the nine previous years in which the MLS Cup Playoffs have featured a two-legged round, teams that fail to win their home opener or lose on the road by more than one goal have not faired particularly well.

The situation is particularly dire for the LA Galaxy, who were the only team to actually lose at home during this year's conference semifinals. Teams that have lost their home opener in two-legged series have failed to advance in 8 of 10 instances.

If the Galaxy are looking for a glimmer of hope, they need to look no further than at the example the team they're playing set in 2010. That year, the San Jose Earthquakes managed to lose their home opener against the New York Red Bulls and won the return leg to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Like the Galaxy, the Earthquakes were a No. 4 seed facing a No. 1 seed.

There are, of course, a few notable difference between the 2010 Red Bulls and the 2012 Earthquakes. The biggest is that the Earthquakes engineered one of the greatest regular seasons in MLS history, while there was nothing particularly special about that Red Bulls team. This Earthquakes team also has been exceptional at Buck Shaw Stadium where they've yet to lose this year and outscored opponents 38-17 in 15 matches.

The odds are similarly steep for Sporting KC. While losing on the road is hardly a death-knell, heading home with more than a one-goal deficit makes life considerably more difficult. If there's a nugget of hope in all of this, it's that only four higher-seeds have ever even trailed by two goals and half of them came back to win.

Of course, that also means just two teams in MLS history have managed to lose by two goals in the opener and come back to win the series. The last time that happened was in 2004 when the then-Kansas City Wizards lost the opener 2-0 but beat the Earthquakes in the return leg 3-0.

That's being a bit myopic, though, as it's obviously bad to be trailing at all. No. 1 seeds have managed to win just 3 of 8 series in which they've trailed by any amount after the first leg. In general, teams that lose the first game by more than one goal have lost 6 of 8 series.

It's a little tougher to know what, exactly, to make of the situations that D.C. United and the Sounders face. Historically, failing to win your home opener is obviously bad. Just five teams have either tied or lost their home opener and come back to win the series. Teams that have tied their home-opener have won just 3 of 9 series.

Oddly enough, ties aren't that common in the first leg as there weren't any in either 2010 or 2011. The most recent example of a team coming back to win on the road after tying at home was in 2008. That was the year the Red Bulls blew a late lead at home and still managed to lay a 3-0 smackdown on the defending champion Houston Dynamo on the road in Leg 2. The Red Bulls advanced to their one and only MLS Cup final that year, falling to the Columbus Crew.

There's clearly nothing impossible about the situations facing all of these teams, but the historical deck is definitely stacked against them.