UPDATE (Sept. 18): Wow, not sure any of us saw this coming. But the Sounders currently sit four points ABOVE the red line with seven matches left to play. Qualifying for the playoffs is a near mathematical certainty according to both 538 and SportsClubStats as the Sounders have gone 9-0-0 since this first published. Now, it’s more about positioning and how high they can climb.
In order to qualify for a 10th straight postseason, the Seattle Sounders must make up an 11-point gap with the current red line over their final 16 games. It’s a tall order, arguably tougher than either of the deficits they needed to erase the last two years.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Sounders will do it or even that they are likely to make it happen. What I can tell you is how such a run would need to look if it were to happen.
The TL;DR version is that the red line looks to be on pace to be right around 49 points. That means the Sounders have to figure out how to get 33 points over their final 16 games. They’d probably need to finish something like 10-3-3.
That kind of season-ending run wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented for the Sounders — they went 10-2-2 down the stretch in 2010 — but it would require a dramatic turn in form.
Digging a bit deeper, the Sounders can probably only afford to drop points in one of their remaining nine home games. For the purposes of this story, we can reasonably say that every home game rates “very high” on the newly patented “must-win-o-meter.” That would leave eight or nine points (depending on if those dropped points are in the form of a loss or tie) to claim in their remaining seven road games.
The good news is that the Sounders’ road schedule doesn’t look all that daunting. By my estimation, there are five games where claiming some points seems pretty reasonable. Here’s a look at their remaining road schedule (we’ll be updating this as the season progresses):
- July 25, at San Jose Earthquakes: In case you haven’t noticed, the Quakes are one of the few teams playing worse than the Sounders. They’ve got two wins all year, and both of them are against Minnesota United. That this is a midweek road game poses a challenge, to be sure. The question is whether the Earthquakes not playing a game between that game and last Saturday is a good thing or not. That locker room seems to be tearing itself apart right now. Must-win-o-meter: High. RESULT: WIN
- Aug. 5, at Minnesota United: The Loons may be a bit of a mess themselves, but they’re also 6-3-1 at home so far (which somehow includes a loss to the Earthquakes). That said, this is the sort of game the Sounders are going to need points from if they’re going to maintain postseason dreams. Must-win-o-meter: High. RESULT: WIN
- Aug. 26, at Portland Timbers: To get to this point in the season and have this game still matter in terms of reasonable playoff hopes, the Sounders would almost need to be riding a nine-match unbeaten run. Well, they’ll likely need to make it 10. Must-win-o-meter: Medium. RESULT: WIN
- Sept. 15, at Vancouver Whitecaps: First off, the good news: The Sounders will be nice and rested after a bye week. But so will the Whitecaps. Making this game doubly important is that the Whitecaps are likely to be one of the teams the Sounders are battling for that final playoff spot. Must-win-o-meter: Very High. RESULT: WIN
- Sept. 23, at LA Galaxy: OK, finally a chance to take a breath. If everything has gone perfectly according to plan, the Sounders will hopefully be high on a 13-game unbeaten streak and can afford to finally lose. Winning in LA isn’t impossible — they’re 2-0-1 in Carson under Brian Schmetzer — but it’s never easy, especially on short rest as the Sounders will be for this one. Must-win-o-meter: Low.
- Oct. 17, at Orlando City: Remember when Orlando opened the season 6-2-1? Well, they just ended a nine-match losing skid that included three losses at home. Assuming that recent win over Toronto FC doesn’t spark their own turnaround — it won’t — the Sounders should be feeling good about their chances. That Orlando will be on short rest, while the Sounders won’t be, is another point in their favor. Must-win-o-meter: Very High.
- Oct. 21, at Houston Dynamo: The Sounders’ only win in Houston came during last year’s Western Conference finals, so that’s nice. It should also give the Sounders’ some confidence if a game earlier didn’t go the way they needed. Must-win-o-meter: Medium.
- HOME RESULTS (Updated on Sept. 17, 2018): Beat Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0; beat NYCFC 3-1; beat FC Dallas 2-1; beat LA Galaxy 5-0; Beat Sporting KC 3-1.
So, there you have it. All the Sounders need to do is reel off a 13-game unbeaten run and then cruise to the finish line. Easy, right?