For a fan base that can often go into panic mode anytime something goes wrong in league play, this summer has made them apoplectic. With memories of two MLS Cups in five years and an unprecedented Concacaf Champions League trophy in the rearview mirror, calls can be heard all over the dark spaces in social media to fire the coach, sack the players, burn the whole thing down and start fresh.
Given that many of these players are signed through 2023 and the Sounders still have a Club World Cup to play for, that sentiment seems premature. However, analyzing the recent past and future of the Sounders’ schedule will not only identify that expectations for these past 11 games might have been too high, but also that expectations for the final 6 games might be too bleak.
The Summer of our Discontent
The disastrous part of the Sounders’ season seems to have come down to the past 11 games where the Sounders only earned seven points, starting with the loss at Portland on July 9 and continuing through Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss in Orlando. Let’s look at those 11 games with a more critical eye:
Results since July 9
The first obvious thing to notice is that of the last 11 games only 4 of the 11 were at home. All 11 teams the Sounders faced are currently at least in the playoff hunt with only Portland, Chicago, Colorado and Atlanta likely falling short of the red line (technically LA Galaxy is below Portland, but with two games in hand, the Galaxy are more likely to make the playoffs).
Looking at the win odds (established from the final betting lines before kickoff), in only 3 of the 11 games did the Sounders have a better than 50% chance to win the game. In fact, they did win 2 of these 3 games, making the only truly surprising loss in the 11 at home vs. Real Salt Lake. They were given a 48% chance to beat Portland at home and a 35% chance to beat Portland on the road and lost both games.
Of the remaining six games that the Sounders played in this stretch, their expected win percentage ranged from 30% at Orlando to as low as 15% at LAFC. They drew against LA Galaxy and lost by one goal in each of the remaining five games.
The point is, while 7 points in 11 games (0.64 PPG) is quite anemic, the expected result over this stretch of 11 games wasn’t that much higher, perhaps 14 points (1.27 PPG). Missing out on those seven points dropped the Sounders' chance of making the playoffs from the approximately 75% chance they had before the Portland game to the 15% chance that the FiveThirtyEight model gives them now.
A New Hope
But a 15% chance is not nothing. The Sounders had less than a 10% chance of making it into the playoffs in 2018 when they went on their historic 9-game winning streak to finish 2nd in the West. And the last six games are especially well suited for the Sounders to turn it around:
- Home vs Houston
- Home vs Austin FC
- At Vancouver
- Home vs FC Cincinnati
- At Sporting KC
- Home vs San Jose
Of these final 6 games, four are at home and one is a bus ride away. Three future opponents have been virtually eliminated from playoffs with Vancouver at only 8% and Cincinnati at 38% to advance as of today. Of the only expected playoff team, Austin, they are virtually locked into second place in the West, so their primary goal is to stay healthy and stay in form.
Based on current betting lines (which already take into account the Sounders' bad form), the Sounders have a 57% chance to earn 3 points vs. Houston. The last time they were so heavily favored, they beat Charlotte 2-1 on May 29. The following game is home against Austin FC and they currently are given a 49% chance to win that match.
In a world where they win both of those matches (winning back-to-back games for the first time in three months), there is a good chance that the snakebit feeling of this season could start to go away and the Sounders would be on a roll going into their final four games against inferior opponents. Better yet, a win against Austin would add to the confidence if the Sounders do sneak into the playoffs and would likely battle them in the first round.
Needless to say, winning one or (hopefully) both of the next two games is a necessary condition for this turnaround to even have a chance. The Sounders have very little chance of advancing without at least five wins in the final six games. However, if they can get to 48 or 49 points with five wins, it will likely be enough to get above the red line, especially since the Sounders will then have control all tiebreakers with 15 wins and no more than four ties. The Sounders fan base may be on the verge of throwing in the towel for 2022. But they should get a definitive signal as to whether on not that is wise in the next 10 days.