The Seattle Sounders are set up for a dramatic MLS Decision Day. Needing a win on the final weekend just to qualify for the postseason is a rarity in Sounders history.
Parity rules North American sports. In some leagues, dominance in the regular season carries into the postseason. Was it any surprise that the Seahawks made the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons as the NFL’s #1 seed, or that their opponents were the #1 AFC seed Denver Broncos in 2013 and the #1 AFC seed New England Patriots last year? The NBA Finals saw the league #1 seed, the Golden State Warriors, face off against LeBron James (who has made the Finals 5th consecutive times). In most leagues, regular season success is predicative of postseason glory.
However MLS is not a league where previous record predicts who will tilt for the championship, let alone win it. MLS has the longest regular season of all the North American professional leagues, at 8 months. MLB is just behind at 7. In both of these leagues, the long-drawn out regular season is rarely preamble to the playoffs. Look at last year’s World Series for example, where both the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals were wildcards yet made the Fall Classic. In both baseball and soccer, things get wonky over those long months. Seattle’s 2015 season is a microcosm of this: So hot (like Hansel) to start the year, so cold throughout the summer, and now cruising along.
Momentum is supposedly the wild card when determining how wildcards go from sneaking in to peeking win. Thus I took a look at who were the hottest teams in the West entering the 2015 MLS postseason. The teams that will meet in the playoffs have changed considerably since March’s First Kick. The transfer window was the last time significant changes were made to the playoff combatants’ rosters, so I choose it as the start date for my sample. The window closed August 6th, so I looked at all Western Conference playoff-eligible teams games from that date on.
This isn’t a perfect sample, as some teams only played 9 games (LA) some 13 (SKC, SJC), one 11( DAL) though most played 10. Additionally, Seattle’s first game in this window was against L.A. who employed all 3 (4?) DPs as Dos Santos joined Gerard and Keane against a DP-less Sounders squad. Deuce, Oba, Ozzie, Valdez, Ivanschitz, and Torres all missed the game. Of the newer signings, only Friberg played. He joined a midfield of Thomas, Rose, Neagle and Evans in a 4-2-1 that featured Chad Barrett as the lone striker. Thus this result was not indicative of the team Seattle would feature in the playoffs, but is included in the sample regardless. Warts and all, this was the frame I used and seemed most objective-ish.
Though Seattle is still whiteknuckle clinging to their playoff hopes, they have been the 3rd best team in the West since the window closed. They are 3rd in PPG, 3rd in GD, and tied for 3rd in wins. Considering San Jose is 2nd, 1st 1st in the above categories and probably won’t make the playoffs, Seattle is one of the two hottest teams going into the second season. Now we just need to take care of business at home Sunday against RSL.