There were times when making the playoffs for an eighth straight season seemed like an implausibility. After the Seattle Sounders lost 3-0 to Sporting Kansas City — arguably the least inspired performance in franchise history — they found themselves 10 points out of the final playoff spot. Even in MLS where over half of the league makes the postseason, teams don’t dig out of holes that deep.
A week later following a 1-1 tie with the LA Galaxy, the Sounders’ playoff chances were pegged at 4.48 percent by SportsClubStats.com. Even people inside the team were admitting a healthy dose of doubt, as GM Garth Lagerwey said the reason they didn’t bring in a young TAM player was due the difficulty of the situation.
We know what eventually happened. The Sounders won 6 of 9, lost just once in 10 games and now find themselves above the red line for the first time all season. Sure, they still have work to do — they probably need at least four more points from their remaining four games to have any hope of qualifying — but the impossible now actually seems quite likely.
Just check out this graph that charts the Sounders’ playoff chances to really understand the turnaround:
That’s a nearly 80 percent turnaround. I don’t have the numbers to prove this, but it’s hard to imagine any team in league history making such a dramatic turnaround so late in the season.
Just getting to this point is worth a certain degree of celebration, but the job very clearly isn’t done yet. The goal wasn’t to get back into the playoff hunt, after all, it was to make the postseason and hopefully win some silverware.
Path to the postseason: When we first started looking at the Sounders’ path to the postseason, this Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps was generally considered one we needed points from. The win over the Galaxy made it less so. That said, a point on Sunday would be fantastic and keeps alive the Sounders’ chances of moving as high as fourth, which would mean a home game in the play-in round.
More importantly, the Sounders are going to need three points from Oct. 12’s game against the Houston Dynamo. If they can get four points from those two, the final two games will probably be more about playoff positioning that qualification. If they get less than three points from those games, it sets up a far more complicated scenario that could very well turn the season finale against Real Salt Lake into a must-win.
Oh, Nico: Nicolas Lodeiro had another strong performance, even though his streak of a goal or assist stopped at eight games. As usual, he was flying all over the field, looking for defense-breaking passes and creating dangerous situations. Unfortunately, he also managed to pick up his fifth yellow card in just 10 games.
What’s really frustrating is that this card, like so many of them, was totally avoidable. He wasn’t dragging down an opponent bound for goal. He didn’t go in a little too hard on a tackle. He wasn’t sticking up for a teammate. No, he was trying to slow down a quick restart.
Sure, it can be argued that referees let those go unpunished a lot. Still, Lodeiro needs to know better. Just like he needs to not punt balls into the stands or stop arguing with referees before they go to the book, Lodeiro needs to know that when he’s one card away from suspension he just can’t do silly things like that.
“It was naïve on my part,” Lodeiro admitted through a translator. “I didn’t want the other player to play the ball fast, so I placed myself in the middle. He was smart [and] I was annoyed with myself, but sometimes it happens.”
In any case, that leaves the Sounders without their top playmaker for Sunday’s game and quite possibly for the Dynamo game as well. Lodeiro will be joining Uruguay for, presumably, a pair of World Cup qualifiers. The first is Oct. 6 against Venezuela and then against Colombia on Oct. 11, a day before the Dynamo game. I suspect Alvaro Fernandez or Erik Friberg will slot into Lodeiro’s spot, and the Sounders may be able to get by, but they aren’t going to replicate a player who is literally all over the offensive half:
There’s a possibility that Uruguay will release Lodeiro after the first game, but the gap between first-place Uruguay and sixth-place Paraguay is only four points. It would hardly be shocking if Uruguay will want Lodeiro for both games.
St. Stefan: I hate the term “underrated.” For the most part it’s something we use as an argumentative device that’s akin to a straw man; who’s to really judge how a player is rated beyond their own opinion. THAT SAID, I really feel like Stefan Frei is the most underrated goalkeeper in MLS.
This goes back to when he signed came to the Sounders in 2014. He started slow — and had a particularly bad game in Vancouver — and that seemed to seal the opinion many had of him. Of course, Sounders fans know he went on to lead the team to a U.S. Open Cup-Supporters’ Shield double and followed that up with a Goalkeeper of the Year-worthy performance in 2015. Then Frei wasn’t even named a finalist in a year he was the only goalkeeper in the top five of saves, save percentage, goals against average and wins speaks to how underrated he is. Maybe he doesn’t make a ton of spectacular saves, but he does as much as any goalkeeper to help his team win games.
Which finally brings us to Wednesday. Frei was only credited with two saves, but one of them kept the Fire from grabbing a point and he also had a huge punch to clear danger when the Fire were looking throwing bodies forward.
But that’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from him, even if the outside media doesn’t seem to want to notice.
A quick word on Ty: I’ve been as hard as anyone on Tyrone Mears. I won’t go into all the reasons here, but I will say that he was very good yesterday. Mears mostly stayed home, rarely overlapped and as a result was in prime position to help limit David Accam’s effectiveness. The Sounders probably need him to be a bit more aggressive in the long term, but he played his role nearly perfect on Wednesday and deserves credit.