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Breaking down Sounders’ playoff scenarios

A win really simplifies things.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are again. For the third time in as many games, the Seattle Sounders can punch their postseason tickets by winning. This time it’s Real Salt Lake standing in the Sounders’ way.

It’s not literally a win-or-go-home match for the Sounders, but it may as well be. The Sounders can qualify even if they don’t win, but that requires either the Portland Timbers or Sporting Kansas City to drop points in their respective games. It’s not just that the games kick off at the same time — Decision Day 2016!!!! — but Seattle can’t exactly count on either team failing to win those matches, as they are both against teams with nothing to play for but pride.

Sporting KC hosts the absolutely directionless San Jose Earthquakes, a team with just seven points in their past 10. This being MLS, anything is possible, but a win for KC seems almost assured.

There’s a slightly more likely out for the Sounders with the Timbers, who play the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road. The Timbers have yet to win any of their previous 16 road games and are trying to avoid something usually reserved for worst-in-the-league types of squads. The Whitecaps are in an even worse rut than the Quakes, having won just one of their past 13. They at least have the glimmering hope of possibly ruining their biggest rivals season — and have a faint hope of winning the Cascadia Cup — but that seems like a long shot, too.

Which brings us back to the Sounders, a team that has managed to climb from the depths of a lost season to actually give many of us hope that something special could still happen.

Failing to beat RSL would not render all the work they have done over the past few months entirely moot. That’s a rather ridiculous notion. No matter what happens on Sunday, the Sounders have at least shown they have useful pieces in place. Add another Designated Player or two to this roster and it might be the most talented in MLS.

At the same time, failure to qualify for the playoffs would be an undeniably bitter pill. The Western Conference has some decent enough teams, but none that look like insurmountable foes, and a first trip to the MLS Cup final seems entirely doable. FC Dallas just needed a couple late goals to beat a severely depleted Sounders team last week; the Colorado Rapids are scoring at a rate worse than the last-place Chicago Fire; the Sounders just beat the LA Galaxy 4-2 on the road; and the other two teams are dealing with plenty of problems of their own.

Here are how the various scenarios can play out:

If the Sounders win

  • They’ll finish fourth and host a first-round playoff game.

If the Sounders tie or lose

  • They’ll miss the playoffs if BOTH KC and the Timbers win
  • They’ll finish fifth as long as BOTH KC and the Timbers do no better than tie
  • They’ll finish sixth if KC OR the Timbers win

First-round playoff opponents

  • RSL at home: If the Sounders win and BOTH KC and Timbers fail to win
  • Kansas City at home: If the Sounders win and KC wins
  • Portland at home: If the Sounders win, KC gets a point or less and the Timbers win
  • RSL on the road: If Sounders lose or tie, KC loses or ties AND Timbers lose or tie
  • Galaxy on the road: If Sounders lose or tie, KC wins OR Timbers win

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