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Sounders still have a slim shot at the Supporters’ Shield

The league quietly updated its competition rules and will now determine playoff seeding by points per game.

Sounders win Supporters’ Shield Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

When the Philadelphia Union beat the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night, they moved one win away from effectively clinching the Supporters’ Shield. A win would allow them to clinch both the highest point-total and the best points-per-game, while almost certainly holding a potential goal-difference tiebreaker with Toronto FC.

That’s the simple, cleanest scenario.

As it is wont to do, however, MLS had made a last-minute ruling that could complicate things.

At some point in the last few hours, MLS updated its Competition Guidelines to reflect points per game now being the primary method by which playoff spots are determined.

The team awarded the highest position in the MLS standings will be the team with the greatest number of points (three points for a win, one point for a tie, zero points for a loss). In the event that all 26 teams do not end the season with the same number of matches played, qualification for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs will be determined by points earned on a per match basis, or points per game.

While a narrow read of “qualification” might suggest that PPG is only meant to determine the final playoff spots and not necessarily the seeding, that seems unlikely. Assuming PPG is now the standard for all seeding, it also suggests that the Supporters’ Shield could be determined by the same metric. (Update: MLS has confirmed that all playoff seeding will be by PPG.)

If that’s the direction the Supporters’ Shield Foundation takes — which would be supported by precedent — the Sounders would have slightly more plausible path toward winning it.

Here’s how that would work:

As I said earlier, the Union can effectively clinch the Shield by beating the Columbus Crew on Sunday. There’s no way the Sounders could catch them on points or PPG if that happens.

But if the Union fail to win that road game and then fail to beat the New England Revolution at home on Decision Day, the Sounders could theoretically catch them by winning each of their final three games. There’s one scenario where the Sounders finish behind on points but ahead on points per game. There’s no scenario where the Sounders can finish ahead on points, but there is one in which the Sounders finish tied on 44 points with the Union, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew. In that perfectly chaotic scenario, the Sounders would win the Shield based on PPG — they’d have played one fewer game — while also being tied on wins and almost certainly ahead on goal-difference.

In a season as anti-competitive as this one — admittedly through no one’s fault — there would be something almost perfect if it played out that way.

Supporters’ Shield Race

Team Games played Current points Max points Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
Team Games played Current points Max points Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
Union 21 44 50 @ Crew vs. Revolution -
Toronto FC 21 41 47 vs. Miami @ Red Bulls -
Crew 20 35 44 vs. Union @ Orlando vs. Atlanta
Sounders 19 35 44 @ Rapids @ Galaxy vs. Earthquakes

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