When the Seattle Sounders play the first leg of their two-leg Western Conference playoff series with Real Salt Lake Friday night at CenturyLink Field, they will do so with practically no one other than Rave Green fanatics believing they have more than an iota of a chance at winning the MLS Cup.
We checked out 10 sets of MLS Cup playoff predictions and nine give Seattle little chance at claiming the Cup. In fact, all nine pick Real Salt Lake to oust the Sounders in the semifinal round. The holdout is MidwestSports Fans. com, which predicts a 5-5 aggregate score in the two games with the Sounders advancing by winning the shootout 5-4.
This is as odd a prediction as we have seen in some time. Where are the Sounders and Real Salt Lake going to come up with 10 goals in two matches when they combined for just one goal in three matches this season (a 1-0 Real Salt Lake win and a pair of 0-0 draws)?
A far saner prediction comes from Grant Wahl of CNNSI.com, a respected observer of the game who says, "Seattle fans are hungry for their first MLS playoff series win, but Salt Lake is not a good matchup for the Sounders, who are dealing with their second straight season with a key injury on the eve of the playoffs (Eddie Johnson this year, Mauro Rosales last year). Too much déjà vu going on here."
Another site, Big D. Soccer, argues that Seattle needs to take at least a two-goal lead into Salt Lake City the Nov. 8 second game, and doesn't figure Seattle is up to that. The Sounders so far haven't been.
The most negative prediction facing the Sounders as they prepare for their fourth crack at the Cup comes from Forbes, which claims to have run the entire history of MLS playoff results, plus a dozen other factors (such as overall goal differential, games managed by the team's coach, seed, home and away records), through computer analysis.
Principally, Forbes argues that the more games a team has played across all competitions -- regular season, Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, friendlies, etc -- the less of a chance it has of winning the MLS Cup. If the Forbes computer modeling is true, the Sounders are in trouble.
Among playoff contenders from the Western Conference, the Sounders played by far the most matches -- 53 -- with Real Salt Lake at 48, L.A. Galaxy at 44 and San Jose at 39.
Forbes calculates that the Earthquakes, who also led the league in goal differential, have an 82.79 percent chance of winning the Cup. It lists DC United in second at 7.99 percent with Seattle's semifinal opponent, RSL, fourth at 2.85 percent.
Forbes predicts that the Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, who play the Galaxy in a play-in game, have a 0.00 percent chance to hoist hardware.
Whether you agree with Forbes about the number of all-competition matches influencing which teams win and lose in the MLS Cup playoffs, this much is true: There have been 36 home-and-home playoff series in league history. The lower seed, which Seattle is this year (No. 3), has advanced just 14 times, meaning home teams have gone 22-5-9 in the second leg.
So the question is . . .