The 2016 MLS season has made for grim viewing for most Seattle Sounders fans, who can find their team sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings, seven points out of a playoff place as they approach the halfway point of their season.
But this is an American sports season, where that old adage, 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish,' rings oh-so-true. We've seen it many times already in MLS, and it's bound to happen again.
Looking beyond the anecdotal evidence, though, we wanted to know: Are there any teams that particularly excel in the second half of the season? With a little help from the Elias Sports Bureau, we dug up the post-July 1 records for every MLS team since 2011, and let's just say it may give Sounders fans a small reason for optimism:
|NY Red Bulls||42||23||21||1.71||48.84%|
Keep in mind that all these seasons for Seattle have come under the same head coach – Sigi Schmid – which certainly won't be the case for all teams. But you can get the idea that in the last five years, the Sounders have been one of the best teams in the league in the second half of the season.
Look at Schmid's record before 2011, and the argument still holds up. In 2010, the Sounders went 4-7-3 before July 1 at a 1.07 points per game pace, the same number they were at before Saturday's 1-1 draw in Toronto. But they closed out the season on a 10-3-3 run to comfortably own a postseason berth.
The king of the late-season push, of course, is Bruce Arena, which is no surprise to anyone who has seen his LA Galaxy teams turn it on every fall en route to MLS Cup wins in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The closest comparison there to this year's Sounders is the Galaxy's 6-9-2 record through July 1, 2012 (good for 1.18 PPG); the Galaxy would lose again on July 4, but only lost twice more in the regular season, finished 15 points clear of the red line and went on to win the title.
In Seattle, though, after four US Open Cup wins and a Supporters' Shield title in 2014, there is only one trophy that's on the minds of the fans: MLS Cup. For inspiration there, Sounders fans may have to do the unthinkable: turn their gaze down I-5 and take a leaf from the Portland Timbers' book. Caleb Porter's men got off to an utterly forgettable start in 2015, going 3-5-4 (1.08 PPG) through their first 12 games, yet by the end of the season they were MLS Cup champs.
All this is not to say the Sounders have an easy path to the 2016 playoffs. There are numerous holes on the roster, the most glaring of which remains the one created by Obafemi Martins' departure in preseason. And even if they do fill those holes in the summer transfer window, as they are expected to do, it will most likely take a while for the new arrivals to jell.
On top of that, the Sounders' 1.67 PPG pace over the last five years would yield 30 points, bringing them to a total of 47 – since 2011, when the league moved to a 34-game schedule, only one Western Conference team has made the playoffs with that number of points or fewer: the 2012 Vancouver Whitecaps.
So while we can't definitively close the book on the Sounders' postseason chances, especially since they have played two fewer games than the sixth- and seventh-placed teams in the west, and three more than fifth-placed Sporting KC, it would take a nearly unprecedented push to get them there.
But hey, there's always the US Open Cup, where the Sounders need just three more wins to capture a record-tying fifth title – a fine consolation prize given their struggles this season.