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RSL’s playoff chances will swing wildly in Vancouver, as they have all season

Making the playoffs would take a feat beyond 2009 RSL or 2016 Seattle.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake
“If we run now, Joao, we can make it.”
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when we categorically weren’t talking about Real Salt Lake’s playoff chances?

Well, times have sure changed. Results around MLS have started going our way — both for us, and in other matches. Some of those recent results include:

  • Sporting KC losing 1-0 to NYCFC on Wednesday
  • FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls drawing 2-2 on Saturday
  • Seattle and Portland drawing 1-1 on Friday

And, of course, our own results made a big difference, and they will inevitably keep doing so. Take, for instance, our match coming this Saturday against Vancouver Whitecaps. They have three matches in hand on us, but they’re only three points ahead, and points don’t just win themselves.

In fact, should we win, Sports Club Stats puts our playoff chances at a surprising 32.3 percent, up from their 14.5 percent estimate. That doesn’t make this game any more must-win than it was before, because there are plenty of rational ways we’ve tried to look at our playoff chances without going this route.

Other numbers are a bit different. FiveThiryEight’s model puts us at 26 percent now, which is even better. They don’t offer as much of a predictive angle with dependent results, though, so we’ll just have to get by without it. They do offer, though, a rear view look at our chances, and that’s interesting to examine. Let’s take a walk.

  • Aug. 27: 25%
  • Aug. 20: 14%
  • Aug. 14: 24%
  • Aug. 8: 13%
  • July 30: 19%
  • July 23: 26%
  • July 12: 14%
  • July 14: 15%
  • June 25: 10%

As you can see, our numbers bounce a round a bit, depending on our results and other’s results. That will continue to be the case, but we should keep an eye on it.

While we’re talking playoffs, let’s look back at everyone’s favorite example of a team making the playoffs with a strong run at the end of a season: Seattle Sounders, last year. (Then, let’s look at 2009, us.)

  • From their last 10 matches, Seattle went 5-3-2 (W-D-L), earning 18 points for 1.8 points per game.
  • They actually lost one of their last three and drew one other, earning only four points from a possible nine.
  • Seattle finished above RSL (though only by two points) during their push.

I’d posit that the Seattle push would be nothing compared to what it may take from us. If we’re lucky, we’ll put ourselves in a position where we can lose a game in the final two weeks of the season and survive, but honestly, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Looking at 2009, you see a record that’s also not super exciting toward the end.

  • RSL lost three of their last five, earning six points of a possible 15.
  • From their last 10, they won went 4-2-4, which isn’t exactly an outstanding record.

If RSL is to make it in this year, they’ll likely need to win four of the last six matches, and that would put us a 7-x-y record, where x+y=3.

If we make it into the playoffs, the miracle of that feat shouldn’t go unstated. 21 points from 30 available is significant, and any team should be happy with such a run of form.

The magnitude of the task ahead of us is huge. Here’s hoping.

Oh, and one more thing. Remember our goal difference? It was real, real bad for a while there. For example, on July 20, it was -20. Negative twenty. Now, we’re at -8, which isn’t great, but it’s also a huge improvement. If we do win four of our last six matches, which is a potential minimum bar for playoffs, there’s a possibility we can finish level on goal differential. That would mean that in three months, we recovered 20 goals. Already, in less than two, we’ve recovered 12. Let’s go.