Seattle Sounders FC has its first trophy; now it needs points.
With the U.S. Open Cup and all of their friendlies behind them, the Sounders are free to concentrate on just one goal over their final six games of the Major League Soccer season: making the playoffs.
League history shows that to do it, they will need to reach the neighborhood of 40 points in the standings, a fairly reliable dividing line between MLS playoff qualifiers and casualties.
To get there, they need six points over their final six games: at D.C. United on Saturday, vs. Chivas USA, at New England, at Columbus, at Kansas City, and versus FC Dallas in the regular-season finale Oct. 24 at Qwest Field.
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Two wins would do it. So would one win and three draws. Three wins might provide a little breathing room.
And having few extra points isn’t a bad idea because while reaching 40 has generally represented the safe zone for MLS playoff qualification, it isn’t a magic number of mathematical certainty.
In the league’s first 13 seasons, two clubs have reached 40 points in the standings and still failed to make the playoffs: Miami (41 points) in 2000 and Kansas City (45 points) in 2005. Over the last four seasons, no one has gotten in with fewer than 39 points.
“For me, 45 and you’re definitely in,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “If you reach a point-and-a-half a game, you’re definitely in. That area between 40 and 45, you’ve got a good chance of being in.”
The Sounders are 8-6-10. With three points awarded for a win and one for a draw, that averages 1.42 points per game – short of Schmid’s comfort zone, but still the eighth-best average in MLS.
That pace could be enough, because as a practical matter the top eight teams make the playoffs.
Technically, it’s the top two teams in each conference, followed by four wild cards regardless of conference.
However, the top two teams in the East and West this season are good enough to easily qualify even in the single-table setup that is common to most leagues around the world.
“The single table is more of a European format, more an international format,” Schmid said. “Do we ever get to that? I don’t really think we’ll ever get to that, per se.”
The Sounders certainly have made things more interesting than their fans would like. As the club has gone 1-3-3 over the past seven games, rivals have gone rushing by and four others lurk just one point behind.
Now, the Sounders hope their 2-1 win over D.C. United for the U.S. Open Cup last week has righted their ship and will propel them down the stretch.
“If anyone saw the game we played against Toronto on (Aug. 29), we were very nervous,” veteran midfielder Freddie Ljungberg said. “I think a lot of people haven’t been in this situation with a lot of pressure: We have to make the playoffs, and it’s a bit tight. After (winning the cup) maybe now they will be a bit more calm. We have some silverware and now we can just enjoy ourselves.”
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Here are the MLS playoff dividing lines since the league went to the format of three points for wins and one point for draws. (Sometimes, a team with a lower point total qualified because the league required a minimum number of qualifiers from each conference.)
SeasonLowest qualifier/pointsHighest non-qualifier/points
2005Los Angeles/45Kansas City/45
2006New York/39Los Angeles/39