With 7 matches to go, where do the Sounders’ playoff hopes stand?
The Seattle Sounders have played three matches since we last checked in with the standings – but two were crucial games against the two main teams that they’re competing with for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Fresh off losing Clint Dempsey for an undetermined amount of time, the Sounders were downed 4-2 by the Timbers in Portland just a week after they beat their Cascadia rivals in Seattle. They then managed to squeak out of San Jose last week with a 1-1 draw, which wasn’t ideal, but it still kept them alive.
With seven matches to go in the 2016 season, can the Sounders still manage to launch themselves from their current position (ninth in the West) to sixth place, the final playoff spot? It’s not going to be easy, but it’s still possible. Their loss to Portland was the biggest killer, but it was probably expected – my projection on Aug. 24 was only a point shy of reality. I expected them to draw the last three matches, when in reality they drew two and lost one. Even a point in the hostile Portland environment just days after a long trip to Houston was probably a long shot, even if they had not lost Dempsey.
That string of matches was the gauntlet for the Sounders, though. Starting this weekend against Vancouver, there is little room for error. Every single home match still needs to be won, no question. A loss on Saturday would all but kill Seattle’s shot at a playoff run. Portland sits six points ahead in the standings, and the Sounders don’t have another head-to-head match to help leapfrog the Timbers. What the Sounders do have, against both the Timbers and the Whitecaps (and Sporting KC, for that matter), is two games in hand. Whereas Seattle has seven matches left in the season to make up the difference, the other clubs have only five.
My initial map to get the Sounders to 45 points was thrown off a bit by the loss to Portland, and they’ll need to get a result from at least one of their remaining away matches. The most likely option is the away match at Los Angeles, as the Galaxy are hurting so badly from injuries that Landon Donovan had to come out of retirement to help them.
Sept. 17 vs. Vancouver: Win, 35
Sept. 25 at Los Angeles: Draw, 36
Sept. 28 vs. Chicago: Win, 39
Oct. 2 at Vancouver: Loss, 39
Oct. 12 vs. Houston: Win, 42
Oct. 16 at Dallas: Loss, 42
Oct. 23 vs. Salt Lake: Win, 45
If the Sounders continue along like that, they still have a pretty good shot at making the grade. But with the loss to Portland and draw with San Jose, which is a point ahead of Seattle and also has two games in hand, it’s looking more and more likely that the Sounders are at the mercy of other results around the league. If some of those other matches don’t swing their way, even 45 points might not be enough at this point.
Here are a few key matches that the Sounders will be watching closely over the next couple weeks:
Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Sept. 17: Since the Rapids have had such a breakout season in 2016, their standing in the Western Conference doesn’t really affect Seattle. They are 14 points ahead and a lock for the playoffs. But San Jose is perhaps the Sounders’ tightest rival for sixth place, and the Earthquakes absolutely must lose this one if Seattle hopes to jump them. This one’s also in Colorado, so hopefully the home side will truly have the advantage.
Houston Dynamo vs. Portland Timbers, Sept. 24: Perhaps more than most teams in MLS, the Timbers absolutely dominate at home. They have the second best home form in the entire league… and the second worst away form. This has evened out to the floating around the middle that Portland has had all season. In this match, the Timbers head to Houston, one of the tougher places to play, which will still be very hot and humid in late September. Portland has only managed six points from 14 away matches all season, and for the Sounders’ sake, hopefully that abysmal form will continue.
Montreal Impact vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Sept. 28: Another away match that could help the Sounders immensely, as a win for an Eastern Conference club has no bearing on the Western standings. San Jose could crumble after a long road trip against a team with dangerous players like Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti. The Earthquakes have a very difficult away run, with this one possibly being the most difficult with travel factored in.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.