The Sounders shooting for the Supporters’ Shield

I don’t often write over here in NASORB’s Sounders section. That might have something to do with my aversion to those blinding “rave green” jerseys, my affinity for the Play Station, and my distaste for bleached-blonde strikers (thank you for going back, EJ), but I’ll suck it up.

Seattle had a rough go of things during the first month-and-some of MLS’s regular season. After a tie at home to New England on April 13th, it sat dead last in the Western Conference with just two points from five matches. A shot ratio of 0.91—indicating that the Sounders were earning themselves just 91% the number of shots that their opponents were generating—did not predict much positive regression.

I do not need to tell Sounders fans that, since then, they have been red hot. The team, not the fans. Anyway, in the last 24 matches, the Sounders have earned 49 points, good for a sizzling 2.04 points per match. Their average goal differential of 0.54 goals per game over that time adds a nice touch. Currently, the Sounders sit on top of the league in terms of points per match, and they arguably have the best shot at the Supporters’ Shield and home-field advantage in a potential MLS Cup final.

I recently put a weekend’s worth of time into creating a simulation of the final weeks of MLS’s season. The simulation includes my own research about predicting winners in soccer. Shot ratios, finishing percentages, strength of schedule and home-field advantage all seem to be important come October, and the model takes each team’s metrics into account in determining winners over these final weeks’ matches. The simulation returns playoffs and Supporters’ Shield probabilities (which I publish weekly here). Seattle’s 41.7% chances at the Shield don’t quite beat the field, but are the best chances for any individual club. Despite low shot ratios all year, Seattle has made up for that by finishing a high percentage of the shots it does take.

Looking for the reason why Seattle doesn’t have an edge on the field, one needs look no further than its remaining schedule. Three of its five remaining matches are away from the friendly turf of Century Link Field. Going to Colorado, to Portland and to Dallas, with home matches against playoff contenders Los Angeles and Vancouver does not add up to easy points. Seattle is almost guaranteed a playoff spot, to be sure, but the Shield is still up in the air. Sounders fans should still be optimistic since a plurality of the Shield probability sits with them.

Seattle is not expected to come away with three points in Colorado this weekend, which means a win would likely boost its Shield chances above 50% for the first time this season.