As we've said time and again, the MLS standings are ridiculously tight right now. If you simply project out every team finishing the season at their current points per game pace, we'd end up with a Supporters' Shield winner on 56 points and the final playoff spot needing 51. That would easily be the smallest gap in MLS history.
More likely, there's going to be a bit more separation as teams start to fall off and pick up as the season comes to a close. But I think it's still a safe bet that it will require less than 60 points to win the Shield and no more than 50 to get into the playoffs. With that said, where do the Sounders need to make sure to get points.
In order to get to 60 points, the Sounders are going to need 26 points over their final 12 games or an average of 2.17 per game. That's a tall task, to be sure, but it's not entirely impossible. Essentially, the Sounders would probably have to claim no fewer than 19 points in their remaining seven home games (and go 6-0-1), which would leave them needing eight points from their final five road games (something like 3-2-0 or 2-0-3). We'll call this the best-case scenario.
Here's the most plausible way to get there:
Aug. 25, vs. Portland: This is an absolute must-win if the Sounders harbor any realistic hopes at the Shield. Also, it's a must-win. Just accept that.
Aug. 31, @ Columbus: Probably a must-win as well. The Crew have the fewest points of any of the remaining teams the Sounders play on the road.
Sept. 4, vs. Chivas USA: This was the game the Sounders rescheduled from earlier in the year. It's two days before the United States plays a qualifier in Costa Rica, so there's a pretty good chance the USMNT players will have been called in already. Still, it's a game the Sounders need to win.
Sept. 7, vs. Chicago: Another game the Sounders need to win in this scenario. They'll probably be short-handed due to international call-ups, but every other team the Sounders play at home is going to be better.
Sept. 13, vs. Real Salt Lake: This will be three days after the U.S. plays Mexico in Columbus, so there's no reason the national team players shouldn't be ready for this one. Still, if there's a home game they can afford to tie, this is probably it.
Sept. 21, at Galaxy: The Sounders will be looking for revenge, but it's not really a must-win game in any sense as long as they can get the needed results in those other games. A loss would probably be fine.
Sept. 29, vs. New York: Look, if the Sounders are going to win the Shield they need to pretty much run the table at home. They'll have a full arsenal of players and be well-rested for this one.
Oct. 5, @ Colorado: Assuming the Sounders lose to the Galaxy, this becomes a must-win. The good news is that the Sounders haven't lost at Colorado since 2010.
Oct. 9 vs. Vancouver: It's a Cascadia Cup match at home, so yeah, you know where I'm going. It would really be helpful if the USMNT has already qualified for the World Cup, too, as there's a game at home against Jamaica two days later.
Oct. 13, @ Portland: As much as it pains me, this might turn out to be a game the Sounders could afford to lose in the grand scheme. They may also be down a few players due to international duty.
Oct. 19 @ Dallas: We're back to must-win territory. If form holds, Dallas will be just playing out the string while the Sounders will be in gathering points mode and should have a full complement of players.
Oct. 27, vs. Galaxy: If all else goes to plan, this could be an absolutely massive matchup in the final game of the season. We'll also assume it's a must-win if for no other reason than winning the final game of the season, especially in front of what should be a massive crowd, always should be.
But the Sounders might not need a full 60 points to win the Shield. Right now, the pace is set at about 56. If that's the target, the season-finale against the Galaxy could probably become a tie and the road game against the Rapids could as well.
Getting into the playoffs probably won't require anymore than 50 points, assuming current form roughly holds. That would make life a lot simpler. The Sounders would probably only need 16 points from their final 12 games, and all of those points could be achieved at home. In fact, if the Sounders can just win their next three at home against the Timbers, Chivas USA and the Fire, that would leave them needing just seven points over their final eight games of the season to sneak into the playoffs. Of course, that also highlights the importance of this upcoming run of four of their next five at home.