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10 To Go: The Final Countdown

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All's well that ends well, right? A brief history of Sounders finishes, both good and not so much.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

And so it’s come to this. Ten MLS matches remain for the Sounders to right themselves, reclaim their dignity and reach the playoffs.

Yet we Rave are a greedy fan base. Can’t help it; the Sounders made us this way. Six playoff berths plus five trophies in six seasons does that. This year, we were told, the objective was once again qualify for the postseason and then eliminate all in our path, an MLS Cup triumph making it truly a December to remember.

Technically, that plan’s still good to go. Seattle clings to the sixth and final playoff slot in the West. However, given a league-worst form of five straight losses and Houston’s game in hand, it’s hardly an iron grip. More like a fingernail dug into a ledge.

About those 10 remaining matches: five come against clubs currently below the Sounders and in two they may find themselves shorthanded due to national team call-ins. That’s the absurdity of MLS. Still, the roster has been reinforced with four significant signings, and all of them figure to be available for the run-in.

To give an indication of what’s possible in the final 10 fixtures, let’s leaf through seasons of Sounders past, and what they were able to put together, and to what end.

The Best 10

9-1-0            2000

Before: Slow start wiped out by 4-0-1 stretch

After: Won playoff opener before being swept by Milwaukee

8-2-0            1994

Before: Already on top of A-League at 6-3-1

After: Despite outscoring Colorado in 2 games, eliminated in shootout

8-2-0            1998

Before: Hovering around .500, acquired MVP Mark Baena

After: Baena got 20 goals, but none in playoffs; swept by Minnesota

7-1-2            1982

Before: Settled down after disastrous start thanks to signing Kenny Hibbitt

After: Seemingly team of destiny stopped by Cosmos in final

7-1-2            1999

Before: In danger of missing playoffs at 9-7-2

After: Scored 6 in playoff opener, allowed 6 in next outing; eliminated

7-1-2            2007

Before: In dogfight for best record at 9-4-5

After: Won 4 of 5 playoff games, including USL final

7-2-1            1976

Before: A bit under .500 at 5-6-3

After: Surge overtook Whitecaps, whom Seattle beat in playoff opener

7-2-1            1988

Before: WSL season was short; FC Seattle was already 2-0-0

After: Won the final, 5-0

7-2-1            2002

Before: Already a runaway for best record at 16-2-0

After: Whitecaps, who lost all 4 regular season meetings, sweep playoff (8:2 aggregate)

7-2-1            2011

Before: A 3-1 loss at Houston, but already cruising at 11-5-7

After: Opened playoffs with thud, losing 3-0 at RSL, and couldn’t catch up

The Worst 5

3-6-1            1981

Before: Just won Trans-Atlantic Cup & positioned well at 10-8-4

After: Couldn’t correct tailspin, losing to Chicago in best of 3 playoff

2-3-5            2005

Before: Solid (9-3-6) start put them 2nd in table

After: Won playoff opener at Portland & proceeded to win title on PKs

3-4-3            1979

Before: So-so (9-11-3) with strike fallout, aging roster, injuries

After: Missed playoffs for 1st time; Jimmy Gabriel resigned as coach

3-4-3            2013

Before: Poll position for Supporters’ Shield

After: Actually winless (0-4-3) down the stretch; Timbers twisted knife in playoffs

4-6-0            2001

Before: Just went 4-0-1, in 3-way fight for final 2 playoff spots at 9-6-1

After: Missed playoffs; Bernie James fired as coach

Summary

It’s not necessarily how a team finishes the regular season since the playoffs offer a fresh start for all. A late push can salvage a playoff berth or improve seeding, but it’s no guarantee of getting one’s hands on Holy Grail. What trends do you detect?

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.