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Assessing Sounders’ playoff chances

The schedule looks pretty manageable, all things considered.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Heading down the stretch, the Seattle Sounders find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory. It’s not so much that their playoff hopes hang in the balance — that has happened before — but this will almost certainly be the first time since they finished fourth in 2016 that the Sounders will not take a Top 2 spot. Even finishing fourth — their lowest previous finish — is looking increasingly remote.

While finishing high enough to guarantee a home playoff game may not be in the cards, the playoffs are still very much within reach. The Sounders currently sit one point outside of playoff position with eight games left to play.

The current pace for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference is 46 points, or about 1.35 points per game. While that’s a bit lower than the historical average, most of the computer projections I’ve seen put the cutoff right around there.

Notably, none of the teams currently sitting in spots 5-11 in the Western Conference table are playing at pace to suggest that number is too low. A few of them could obviously get hot, but that at least gives us a decent starting point to figure out what the Sounders need to do from here on out.

Here’s the current table with each contender’s point total, number of games remaining, performance over their past 11 games, the home/away PPG of remaining opponents and some projections from 538:

Western Conference playoff race

Team Points Remaining (H/A) PPG last 11 Opposition PPG Projected Pts Playoffs
Team Points Remaining (H/A) PPG last 11 Opposition PPG Projected Pts Playoffs
FC Dallas 42 6 (3/3) 1.45 1.47 50 88%
Minnesota 41 8 (4/4) 2.09 1.35 52 98%
Real Salt Lake 38 8 (4/4) 1.18 1.51 49 78%
Nashville SC 36 7 (4/3) 1.18 1.47 46 55%
LA Galaxy 34 9 (3/6) 1 1.26 47 66%
Whitecaps 34 7 (4/3) 1.27 1.38 42 20%
Sounders 33 8 (4/4) 0.91 1.31 45 52%
Timbers 33 7 (4/3) 1.54 1.42 42 14%
Rapids 32 8 (3/5) 1.18 1.3 43 26%
These are the teams currently ranked 3-11 in the Western Conference. The Galaxy currently occupy the final playoff spot. Data via FormGuide and 538

While this table isn’t exactly encouraging for the Sounders, that’s mostly due to their form. The Sounders are the only contender at less than 1.0 PPG over their last 11 games, something that will undoubtedly have to improve if they’re to extend their playoff streak to 14 seasons.

But beyond that, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. Seattle’s remaining schedule is reasonably manageable, with only the Galaxy and Rapids facing teams with lower PPGs. Although the Galaxy have played one fewer game than the Sounders, 6 of their 9 remaining games are on the road, where they are 3-6-2 and last won on May 8. The Rapids have 5 of 8 remaining games on the road, where they are 1-8-3.

Of the Sounders’ eight remaining games, just two are against teams currently in playoff position — Orlando City and Austin FC — and both of them have mitigating circumstances that lower the difficulty level.

Here’s a look at each of Seattle’s remaining opponents and something I’ve dubbed the Winnability Index™, on a scale of 1-10:

at Timbers (Aug. 26)

Outlook: The Timbers have actually been pretty middling at home this year, going 5-2-6 and just 1-0-3 in their last four. The Sounders have also enjoyed quite a bit of recent success at Providence Park, having won 5 of 6 trips there dating back to 2018.

Winnability Index™: 6. I’d never assume a win in Portland, but history and form suggest it’s totally possible. A tie would be fine.

at Orlando City (Aug. 31)

Outlook: Although this is the longest league road trip the Sounders will take this year, they will have two more days of rest than their opponents, who play an inter-conference game against New York City on Sunday. Orlando is also one of only six teams in the league with a losing home record (5-7-0) and are coming off consecutive losses at Exploria Stadium.

Winnability Index™: 7. This is a totally winnable road game and the Sounders have won their only two other trips to Orlando (in 2016 and 2018), but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t pull this out.

vs. Houston Dynamo (Sept. 4)

Outlook: The Dynamo have historically been one of the worst road teams in MLS and haven’t been much better this year, going 3-9-1 overall and just 1-6-1 in their past eight on the road. They did, however, just claim a massive point at Colorado on a literal last-minute equalizer.

Winnability Index™: 10. In fact, I’d say if the Sounders don’t win this one you might have to stick a fork in them.

vs. Austin FC (Sept. 10)

Outlook: Austin FC has been one of the best teams in the league this year, are tied with LAFC for the most goals scored (55) and are tied for the league lead in road wins (8). They do have an obvious weakness, however. Austin’s defense has long been a bit suspect and they’ve now given up 12 goals in their past five games, including at least two in four of those.

Winnability Index™: 6. It’s a home game, and I don’t think the Sounders should feel like any home game against any North American opponent is anything less than a 5. That said, if they can get wins in some road games I’m not really sweating this one as much. This is probably the Sounders’ toughest remaining regular-season game and might be one they can afford to drop points in.

at Whitecaps (Sept. 17)

Outlook: I’ll be honest, I don’t quite know what to make of the Whitecaps this year. They have a -14 goal-difference but keep winning important games to stay in the race. Their recent home form is a perfect example: they’re just 3-2-1 in their past six, including a pair of 3-1 losses to Minnesota and the Chicago Fire?!?, while also scoring a win over LAFC.

Winnability Index™: 6. A tie here would be fine, but this is a winnable game. The Sounders are 6-3-6 all-time at BC Place and have only lost there once since the start of the 2015 season.

vs. FC Cincinnati (Sept. 27)

Outlook: This game was originally scheduled on April 9 but was moved for CCL and will now be played at the tail end of a FIFA international window. As a result, the Sounders will probably be missing a few internationals, but FCC might be missing a few players as well. On the road, FCC has cooled off after a strong start in which they went 4-2-1 and are just 0-2-4 since their last road win on May 14.

Winnability Index™: 8. FCC is dramatically improved from the team that claimed three straight Wooden Spoons and has a reasonable shot at reaching the playoffs, but this is still a game the Sounders need to win if they’re to make the playoffs.

at Sporting KC (Oct. 2)

Outlook: For much of the season, Sporting KC has languished near the bottom of the standings. They have shown some signs of life recently with a couple good home wins, however, even if it’s probably too little, too late. Overall, they’re 5-6-2 at home.

Winnability Index™: 6. Games in KC are always tough, but the Sounders are a very respectable 5-4-2 there. Given KC’s current predicament, this is a game the Sounders should feel reasonably confident going into.

vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Oct. 9)

Outlook: The Earthquakes have actually been playing okay since the disastrous start that got Matias Almeyda fired, but they still aren’t very good, especially on the road. The Earthquakes are just 1-8-4 away from PayPal Park, but a slightly more respectable 1-5-4 under current coach Alex Covelo. They did just score a home win over LAFC, though.

Winnability Index™: 10. This is the final game of the season, and even if it’s not a literal must-win in order to make the playoffs, it will surely have significant playoff implications. If the Sounders can’t beat one of the league’s worst road teams at home on Decision Day, they don’t belong in the playoffs.


The Winnability Index™ is admittedly pretty arbitrary and something I just made up, but I gave the eight games an average rating of 7.25. I didn’t rank any of them below a 5, which was meant to illustrate that I don’t think any of these games are remotely unwinnable. The Sounders actually have an all-time winning record against all of these teams, even if you correct for home and away.

It definitely requires the Sounders’ form to improve, but there’s every reason to think they could claim anywhere from 16-20 points from these eight games. Considering they probably need at least 13 to make the playoffs, I feel like they are firmly still in “I’ll be surprised if they don’t make it” territory. I’ll add the caveat that given their recent form, missing the playoffs is still very much within the realistic range of possibilities. There are only two games that I think are virtual locks (the home games against Dynamo and Earthquakes) and something like eight points is probably on the low end of realistic expectations.

I’ll admit that this probably feels a bit overly optimistic. We just learned that the Sounders were dealt another blow when Cristian Roldan had groin surgery, leaving them without another presumed starter for at least a month. That’s another reason for pause, and another reason to be skeptical that this team has a lengthy playoff run in them, but count them out at your peril. This is a veteran group that still has quite a bit of talent and looking at a manageable schedule. Don’t be shocked if they finish strong.

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