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Sounders in good position to make playoffs

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Strength of schedule update: 7 games remaining

A lot can happen in a few weeks! Some of you may remember this article from the beginning of August where I analyzed the remainder of the Seattle Sounders’ season and our chances of making the playoffs.

At the time, we were feeling great about our current form, we were in a decent playoff position, but not safe by any means. Now, we’re feeling a little antsy about our current form but in a great position to make the playoffs, sitting first in the West with a game in hand on number two.

Now feels like a good time to hash out the odds for the rest of the season.

First, let’s look at the strength of schedule. Like before, I computed the points per game for each team at home and away up to this point in the season. I then lined up the remainder of each team’s schedule (home and away) and computed the mean PPG of all their opponents. The result looks like this:

You can see that D.C. United have the hardest remaining schedule, based on their opponents’ PPG. Real Salt Lake are still sitting pretty with the easiest schedule, as they have been since my original post. The Sounders are 5th from the bottom, meaning they have a relatively easy schedule too. Unfortunately for us though, San Jose, Vancouver, Houston, Dallas and Kansas City are all in our vicinity too.

To put it simply, we could very likely go on a run for the rest of the season, but so could most of our competition in the West.

So what does it mean for our playoff hopes? The best way to figure that out is to simulate. As before, I used multinomial logistic regression to play out the rest of the season a thousand times according to all of our PPG so far. This way we can see how many simulated end-of-seasons finish with us in each position, with various amounts of points and so on. Here’s a picture of the results for the Western conference:

The bars in these histograms show how often each team ended in each position in the West across all simulations. I didn’t break ties, so they show up as halfway between positions. What you can see is that our highest bar is centered on the number 1, just how we want it.

Like I said, a lot has changed since I last ran this simulation. With eleven games remaining, the Sounders were expected to come in at 4th place, now we’re the favorite by a small margin over Kansas City. FC Dallas, the clear favorite at the start of the month, is now expected to come in 6th.

Across all 1000 simulations, the Sounders made the playoffs 988 times. That’s second only to Toronto and NYCFC, both of whom made the playoffs in every simulation. That’s not to say these two teams have clinched the playoffs, just that it’s so likely given their record and schedule that they’re virtually a lock:

Playoff Probabilities

Team Probability of Making the Playoffs
Team Probability of Making the Playoffs
NYCFC 1
Toronto FC 1
Seattle Sounders 0.988
Atlanta United 0.971
Sporting KC 0.962
Chicago 0.954
Vancouver 0.939
Columbus 0.896
NY Red Bulls 0.889
Houston 0.867
Portland 0.821
FC Dallas 0.776
San Jose 0.607
Montreal 0.406
Real Salt Lake 0.203
New England 0.013
Orlando 0.006
Philadelphia 0.002
LA Galaxy 0
Colorado 0
Minnesota United 0
DC United 0

Looking at the Western conference specifically, these probabilities can translate into points and rankings. The below table shows the mean points each team is expected to have by the end of the season.

Western Conference Expected Rank

Team Mean Points Conference Rank
Team Mean Points Conference Rank
Seattle Sounders 53.6 1
Sporting KC 52.2 2
Vancouver 52.2 3
Portland 49.3 4
Houston 49.0 5
FC Dallas 49.0 6
San Jose 47.2 7
Real Salt Lake 44.1 8
Minnesota United 33.3 9
LA Galaxy 30.9 10
Colorado 30.1 11

As you can see, the race for the top three positions in the West is going to be tight. Considering each team’s record at home and away and that of their opponents, the Sounders are expected to end with 53 or 54 points, and Kansas City and Vancouver are expected to end with 52 or 53. Portland are expected to drop from their current standing to 4th (49 or 50 points), with Houston just barely behind. Here’s the distribution of points across all simulations:

You can see that there are just a few scenarios that have the Sounders coming up short of 50 points (85/1000 to be exact) but also a few that have them crossing 60 points on the season (28/1000). Most (the inner two quartiles) of the scenarios for the end of the season have us landing somewhere in the 55 to 58-point range.

That’s good for a 44% chance of coming in first, 25% chance of coming in second, 16% chance of coming in third, 8% chance of coming in fourth, 4% chance of coming in fifth, 2% chance of coming in sixth, and 1% chance that the Sounders will miss the playoffs (seventh or eighth).

As for the Supporters’ Shield, well, don’t count on it. Across all thousand simulations, Toronto won the Shield 994 times and NYCFC won the other 6.

So things are shaping up nicely for the Sounders. It’s still technically possible that we could completely blow it, but I’d say it’s time to set our sights on the playoffs. The fact that it’s basically impossible to win the Shield may actually be liberating in a way. Every effort can now be directed towards resolving our issues and enhancing our strengths so that when the playoffs come around, we’re ready to repeat.