The penultimate day of play did little to brighten the Seattle Sounders’ prospects for the 2021 regular season. Although Sporting KC’s loss to Minnesota United enabled the Sounders to return to the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference, they did it with a draw in their final home game of the regular season. That means they can still finish anywhere from first to third in the standings.
Here’s what you need to know in this final week:
The final game of the season for the Sounders is Sunday at the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Sounders are 1-0-1 against the Whitecaps this season, but both games were at Lumen Field. The first meeting was a 2-2 draw and the most recent was a 4-1 win, which was basically the last game the Sounders won against anyone.
The Whitecaps are currently seventh in the Western Conference table, two points ahead of No. 8 Real Salt Lake, but with two games left to play. The first is tonight at LAFC, which is three points behind the Whitecaps and ninth in the table. If the Whitecaps win this game, they will earn a spot in the playoffs.
The Whitecaps have had quite a run lately, losing just twice since July 7 (10-2-7) and standing 3-0-1 since that loss to the Sounders.
Second place Sporting KC still have two games to go. The first is Wednesday at Austin FC. Although Sporting KC were 1-0-1 in their previous encounters, it is noteworthy that both were played at Children’s Mercy Park and both were well contested.
Austin has usually been pretty bad – that’s why they’re last in the West – but were actually OK at home, where they were 6-8-2 overall and 3-1-0 in their last four.
If KC drops points in that game, it will set up a pretty massive Decision Day game at home against Real Salt Lake, a team that will likely still be fighting for a playoff spot. RSL won its only previous meeting between the teams this year, 3-1, on May 1. Like Sporting KC, RSL will also play a home game on Wednesday, at home against the Portland Timbers.
The Rapids have only one game left and will receive LAFC on Sunday. LAFC won their previous game, 2-1 on May 22, and are guaranteed to play for their playoff life whatever happens tonight.
At the time of this writing, it is at least theoretically possible that the Sounders could lose on Sunday and still win the West. That would require neither Sporting KC nor the Rapids to claim more than one point in their remaining games, with the Sounders somehow scoring five goals more than SKC in the process, or for SKC to lose their last two games. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen.
A more plausible scenario would require the Sounders to win their last game, putting first place out of reach for the Rapids and forcing SKC to win at least one of their last two games.
Honestly? If the Sounders win their last game and still finish second, I’m fine with that. Not only would they have guaranteed home field advantage until the conference final, they would also earn a spot in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League, thanks to the US Open Cup being canceled this year.
It’s also worth noting that the Sounders didn’t win the West on any of their previous four runs to the MLS Cup. Of the 16 MLS Cup finalists since 2013, only one – Toronto FC in 2017 – was a No. 1 seed. In the same time, nine number 2 seeds have advanced to the final. Only one of those play-offs has been played in exactly the same format as this year – 2019 – but the judges are certainly not yet sure how valuable the farewell to the first round will ultimately be.
Even without the bye, each team gets at least 12 days off, and some get 15 days between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. It looks like the winner of the Western Conference will play on Thanksgiving, which doesn’t seem like a big prize to me either.
Practically, getting third is hardly a death sentence for a team’s MLS Cup aspirations. Since 2013, three number 3 seeds have made it to the finals along with three more teams who were even lower seeds, and three teams number 3 or below won the whole thing, including the 2016 Sounders who were a 4 seed.
But finishing third would mean the Sounders would go into the playoffs on a six-game winless slip. The only other time they went into the playoffs with such a streak was in 2013, when they crossed the finish line 0-4-2, won their first playoff game and then were ignominiously knocked out of the playoffs. when the Timbers thrashed them 5-3. on aggregate. I feel like the demons of that campaign have largely been exorcised over the past eight years, but I don’t think any of us are interested in opening that portal to see if it still leads to hell.
I also feel like getting third would just be a bummer. The Sounders played so well and overcame so many challenges during the first six months of the season that finishing so low in the rankings wouldn’t do all that work justice.
It’s true that the Sounders will finish 2021 with more road points (30+) than home points (29) and have posted their worst home PPG of the MLS era (1.71), but I still tend to prefer home games over road games in the playoffs. As frustrating as the Sounders’ struggle was, it’s probably worth noting that woodwork stoppage time shots were the only thing between the Sounders and four extra points coming home (Timbers +1, Sporting KC +1 and Galaxy +2). Add those three results to their record and the Sounders would have finished 9-2-6 at home (1.94 PPG), which is basically in line with their historical average (2.00).
It’s not that the Sounders “deserved” those improved results, but I think it pretty much illustrates how thin the line is between satisfaction and frustration.
I will also point out that the Sounders currently have a winning streak of 15 home playoffs, including a record 12-0-0 at Lumen Field in the playoffs under Schmetzer. In contrast, they are 3-4-2 on the road under Schmetzer in playoff games. I think I’d rather take my chances at home.
Great point! Even if this final game didn’t have much impact on the playoffs, it would still decide the Cascadia Cup. The Sounders have won the last two Cascadia Cups – 2018 and 2019, after last year’s cancellation – and could become the first team to ever have three consecutive wins since ECS, Timbers Army and the Southsiders began awarding the trophy in 2004.
The Sounders currently have a three-point lead over the Whitecaps and a significant lead on goal difference, the first tie-breaker. To break the Sounders’ hold on George, the Whitecaps would need to win by at least four goals.
Of course, it would probably be better to just win that game and make this all a lot easier.
Tiebreakers from Western Conference
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