Sounders Summer Break: Playoff Expectations

Dave recently discussed where we can expect the Sounders to end up at the end of the regular season. I'd like to take the next step and look at what the playoff match-ups would be and how that would affect Kasey's chances of lifting the Cup in LA.

The table in Dave's post contained three different ways of looking at where a team will end up: points per match (PPM), Graham's formula applied to a whole season's slate of games (x34), and Graham's formula applied to each team's remaining games (xFinish).

The Scenarios


PPM

If PPM is to be believed, this will be the playoffs:

Western Conference Qualifiers
Los Angeles Galaxy - SS
Real Salt Lake
FC Dallas

Eastern Conference Qualifiers
Philadelphia Union
Columbus Crew
New York Red Bulls

Wild Cards
Seattle Sounders FC
Colorado Rapids
DC United
San Jose Earthquakes

This would be an interesting scenario for the Sounders. As the top wild card they would play at home in their one-match play in against the Earthquakes. Also, if they won, they'd be the top surviving wild card, meaning that the other surviving wild card would face the Supporters' Shield winner. In all the scenarios, the Supporters' Shield winner is a Western team, meaning that if the Sounders advanced to the first round, they would go into the East and face Philadelphia home and away. Considering that the last two MLS Cup champions have been Western teams that crossed into the Eastern bracket, history would seem to be on the Sounders' side in this scenario. Particularly encouraging, in light of recent history, is that in this scenario the Sounders could only face the Galaxy in the Final.


x34

The x34 method says these would be the playoffs:

Western Conference Qualifiers
Real Salt Lake - SS
Los Angeles Galaxy
Seattle Sounders FC

Eastern Conference Qualifiers
New York Red Bulls
Philadelphia Union
Columbus Crew

Wild Cards
FC Dallas
Chivas USA
Houston Dynamo
San Jose Earthquakes

This scenario highlights the perversity of the MLS. Here we have the Sounders finishing one spot higher, but facing a much more difficult road to the Final. In this scenario, they'd face the LA Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. Given the issues the Sounders have had facing the full strength Galaxy, I'd imagine that this would be a scenario that Sigi would just as soon not face.


xFinish

Finally, xFinish's version of the playoffs:

Western Conference Qualifiers
Los Angeles Galaxy - SS
Real Salt Lake
FC Dallas

Eastern Conference Qualifiers
Philadelphia Union
New York Red Bulls
Columbus Crew

Wild Cards
Seattle Sounders FC
Colorado Rapids
San Jose Earthquakes
Houston Dynamo

Very similar to the first scenario from the Sounders' perspective, except that they'd take on Houston instead of the Earthquakes. The logic is the same though: as the top wild card, their route through the playoffs would be Eastward, which could very well play in their favor.


The Bottom Line

Sports Club Stats has our playoff odds at 99.8%, which is obviously a good place to be. But all indications point to MLS continuing to be a textbook example of perverse incentives. In particular, as long as the Supporters' Shield winner is a Western team, the best spot for a Western division team to be is the top of the wild card heap. In the Sounders' case specifically, the top three Eastern teams are teams we've had success against in the past, and would certainly be more comfortable psychologically than yet another match up against the Galaxy.

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