The Sounders will head into their final game of the regular season at Houston tomorrow knowing they could climb as high as fifth place or drop as low as eighth in the playoff standings by the time the weekend is out; and they could open the playoffs on Oct. 31 paired with L.A., RSL, New York or Columbus. (ProstAmerika took a nice look at the possibilities.)
Here are the MLS playoff and tie-breaking procedures, and here is what they could mean for the Sounders:
Seattle begins the final weekend two points behind fifth-seeded Dallas, so a Seattle win Saturday combined with a Dallas loss Sunday at Los Angeles would allow the Sounders to hop past the Hoops.
However, San Jose is just two points behind Seattle and therefore could move past if the Sounders lose and the Quakes win Saturday night at Kansas City. A Seattle draw and Earthquakes win would give both teams 49 points. They are even in the first tie-breaker: head-to-head competition. Seattle currently leads the second – goal differential – by one. However, that advantage would disappear in the relevant scenario of a Seattle draw and San Jose win. And if the Quakes win by more than one goal, that tie-breaker turns in their favor.
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Tie-breaking also would be needed if the combination was a Seattle loss and Colorado win Saturday night against RSL. That would give both clubs 48 points, and they would be even in head-to-head games. However, Colorado has an unbreakable grip on goal differential.
However, the MLS seeding procedure could make a drop of one or two positions advantageous. If the Sounders finish fifth or sixth, they would open the playoffs against the team with the best or second-best record in MLS (Los Angeles or Salt Lake). If they drop to seventh or eighth, they would move into the Eastern Conference bracket and be paired against teams currently holding the league’s third- or fifth-best records: New York or Columbus.