Break out your calculators and spreadsheets; the postseason picture in the MLS Western Conference shaping up to be a real fun time: Two weeks, up to six possible points per team and and five teams contending for the final three playoff spots. That’s what a turbulent season comes down to for the Seattle Sounders.
Los Angeles, Dallas, and Vancouver already punched tickets to the postseason, with Portland, San Jose, Sporting KC and Seattle’s Sunday’s opponent, Houston, vying for a chance at the MLS Cup. Depending on results, Seattle could finish in second place with a first-round bye, or miss the playoffs altogether.
The picture is complicated by the expansion of the playoffs this year from 10 teams to 12—six per conference—and the heightened competitiveness when SKC and the Houston Dynamo realigned from the East to make room for expansionists Orlando City and NYCFC. Number-crunching reveals a wide array of final arrangements when league play concludes Oct. 25.
Seattle (14-13-5) is tied for fifth, alongside Portland (13-11-8) with 47 points. Below sit the San Jose Earthquakes (12-12-8, 44 points) and Houston (11-13-8, 41 points) in sixth and seventh place, respectively. All have two matches left, while fourth-place Sporting KC (13-9-9, 48 points) has three matches in the next ten days.
If Seattle wins both, they will finish with 53 points and 16 wins, potentially good enough to earn a first-round bye, assuming that LA, Vancouver and Sporting Kansas City all suddenly forget how to play and lose their remaining matches (LA and SKC draw one another on the final day). While that seems unlikely, 53 points would put Seattle in a likely position to host the single-elimination match in the first round, contested between the third-through-sixth seeded teams.
If Seattle wins one match and draws the other, they will finish with 51, and could still take second if LA lost its remaining matches, Kansas City beat LA and lost to San Jose and lowly Colorado, and . . . Kasey Keller descended to the pitch from the press box in a chariot wreathed in flames, signaling divine intervention for the rave green (that seems almost plausible in that list of criteria).
If Seattle wins one and loses the other for 50 and 15 wins, they would own the primary tiebreaker against San Jose, which could reach 50 but would have 14 wins. This outcome would mean Seattle would qualify as the fifth or sixth seed in the west, meaning a tough road contest in the first round, most likely against SKC or Cascadia rival Vancouver.
If Seattle draws both remaining matches, they would still make the playoffs in the fifth or sixth spot, as long as San Jose doesn’t win two.
After that, things get tricky. Seattle can theoretically squeak in above the red line while losing both of its remaining matches, but if that happens, coach Sigi Schmid will be buying a lot of lottery tickets.
If Seattle loses to Houston and RSL, they could make the playoffs with 47 points if Houston lost to Vancouver on the final day and San Jose lost one of its two, causing the first to finish with 44 points, and the second to lose a tiebreaker against the Sounders based on number of wins. Seattle could still finish fifth, in theory, presuming Portland lost two as well, losing the number-of-wins tiebreaker to Seattle.
The checklist for Seattle to miss the playoffs is simple. If the Sounders lose two, San Jose wins two and Portland picks up a point in the next two weeks, Clint Dempsey and the gang will be spending November on the couch. Those criteria are far from impossible, especially in a season where so much has gone wrong for Seattle.
That’s a lot of ifs, buts, and ands, but Seattle can make things much easier on themselves by winning on the road against Houston Sunday at 2 p.m. PT. After that, the only insane calculus left to perform will involve who Seattle might face in the postseason.