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Sounders treating every game from here on out ‘like a final’

Playoff math suggests the Sounders have very little room for error over their final five games.

Jane Gershovich/ Sounders FC Communications

TUKWILA — Sitting six points out of the final playoff spot with just five games left to go has all but erased the Seattle Sounders’ room for error. While winning out and getting to 51 points would effectively guarantee them a spot in a 14th consecutive MLS postseason, the math gets a bit dicier pretty quickly in any other scenario. Anything less than 47 points — which leaves room for dropping points in no more than two games — would more likely than not result in a failure to qualify.

With that in mind, the Sounders are treating their final five matches with an added level of import.

Playoff chances

Points W-L-T Playoff %
Points W-L-T Playoff %
42 2-3-0 0
43 2-2-1 1
44 2-1-2 2
45 3-2-0 9
46 3-1-1 29
47 3-0-2 52
48 4-1-0 79
49 4-0-1 99
51 5-0-0 99.9+
Using a Monte Carlo simulation based on 538’s playoff odds, these are the Sounders playoff chances at various point totals.

“Every game from now on is like a final for us,” Sounders midfielder Jordan Morris said following Wednesday’s training session. “We really need to keep stringing wins together to get ourselves back above the line.”

So far, the Sounders’ streak sits at one following their first win in over a month, a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday. The loss left the Dynamo at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and resulted in head coach Paulo Nagamura being fired. The Sounders’ next test will be considerably bigger as they prepare to host second-place Austin FC on Saturday.

Austin leads the Western Conference with 60 goals scored, is second with a +18 goal-difference and actually has more road points (26) than home points (25) this year. They are led by MLS MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi, who has 20 goals and seven assists. The Sounders tied Austin 1-1 in a road match earlier this year, but needed several big saves from Stefan Cleveland to secure the point.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer acknowledged that Morris’ thinking is effectively correct, but also was wary of taking too big of a view.

“My cautionary tale is you can’t look ahead to the other four games, you have to focus on this one,” he said. “It’s word play, but every game is critical, every home game is critical. You want to win your home games, you have to get something on the road. There’s a lot of storylines within each of the last five games and yes, they’re all like finals, but let’s focus on this first one.”

Cristian Roldan’s return

Schmetzer said Cristian Roldan is targeting the Sporting KC match on Oct. 2 for his potential return from groin surgery. Roldan has missed the Sounders’ last four games since being diagnosed with an athletic pubalgia (a.k.a., a sports hernia). Roldan has resumed light jogging and should ramp up relatively quickly over the next couple weeks.

“We’ve got a strict protocol and aren’t going to rush him, but I won’t be surprised if he makes it,” Schmetzer said.

Praise for the midfield

After taking a closer look at the film of the Dynamo match, Schmetzer said he remains satisfied with the play of Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva as a central midfield pairing. It was the second time they’d started together in MLS play, but they’ve been paired in countless matches for the Sounders Academy and Tacoma Defiance over the years. Schmetzer acknowledged that Austin’s propensity for pressing will pose a very different challenge from Houston’s low block, but seemed inclined to give them that chance.

“Upon review, Josh and Danny did a really good job of patrolling that area of the field,” Schmetzer said. “They were a good pair. Showed that they played together at Defiance, didn’t look out of step at all.”

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