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Looking back on Sounders’ record playoff streak

Sounders already rank second all-time in MLS playoff series wins.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

It was perhaps fitting that just a few days after the Seattle Mariners ended one of the longest playoff droughts in professional sports that the Seattle Sounders officially ended one of the longest playoff streaks in professional sports. They are both reminders that good and bad streaks all eventually end.

There will be plenty of places to unpack to pain that is associated with this Sounders failure, but now seems like a good time to reflect on just how impressive of a run that was.

The first thing to keep in mind is that when the Sounders first made the playoffs in 2009, it was seen as a bit of an anomaly. The last time an MLS expansion team had qualified for the playoffs was 1998, when the Chicago Fire pulled that off in a league that was only 2 years old.

The Sounders didn’t just squeak in, either. They finished seven points clear of the final playoff spot and even more impressively were just two points short of the Supporters’ Shield.

Longest playoff streaks in MLS history

Team Playoffs Started Ended
Team Playoffs Started Ended
Seattle Sounders 13 2009 2022
New York Red Bulls 13 2010 Present
LA Galaxy 10 1996 2005
Sporting KC 8 2011 2018
New England Revolution 8 2002 2009
LA Galaxy 8 2009 2016
Dallas Burn 7 1996 2002
Real Salt Lake 7 2008 2014

That turned out to be a theme. In their first 13 MLS seasons, the Sounders never finished lower than fourth, which would have been good enough to qualify for the playoffs under every format MLS has used in its history.

Dating back to the pre-MLS era, the Sounders had actually qualified for 16 straight seasons overall and they’ve only missed the playoffs three times since being reborn in 1994. Even going back to their original founding 1974, the Sounders have now only missed the playoffs six times.

Although it took the Sounders until 2012 to finally win an MLS playoff series and they didn’t get to MLS Cup until 2016, they now rank fourth all-time in total playoff wins (22) and second in series wins (17). The Sounders have won two MLS Cups and made four trips to the finals, which both rank third most in league history. All of this despite the Sounders entering the league 13 seasons after it began.

Of those 17 series wins, 15 have come under head coach Brian Schmetzer. He boasts an overall playoff record of 15-4-3, tied for the third most playoff coaching wins all-time, with a .750 playoff winning percentage that is tied for the best in league history.

Although the New York Red Bulls have now tied the Sounders’ streak of 13 consecutive seasons in the playoffs, it’s worth noting that they’ve won just five of their 17 playoff series and never advanced beyond the Eastern Conference finals in any of their 12 previous trips to the postseason during their streak. The Galaxy, the only team with more playoff series wins, has managed just one series win since beating the Sounders in the 2014 Western Conference finals. Of the 19 other expansion teams in MLS history, only five have more than six series wins in their entire history and none have more than the Houston Dynamo’s 15 (they entered the league three years before the Sounders).

Time will tell if this is the end of the Sounders dynasty, but this level of sustained success will be hard for anyone to match.

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