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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, October 24, 2016

The struggle is real: How the Union's end-of-season winless streak stacks up

The Philadelphia Union are limping into the playoffs, or backing in, or whatever verb-euphemism-in you’d like to deploy. The achievement of the club’s first playoff berth since 2011 is marred by a seven-game winless streak dating to the start of September. Over that stretch, they’ve gone 0-5-2, taking a mere two points from a possible 21. It’s not an ideal finish to the regular season by any stretch of the imagination.

So I wondered, how does it stack up historically? What is the longest winless streak for a playoff team? And how did struggling teams fare in the playoffs?

First off, it’s hardly unprecedented, since the Union aren’t even the only 2016 MLS Cup playoff qualifier with such a streak of futility. The sixth-place team in the West, Real Salt Lake, has endured an 0-4-3 stretch in its last seven, matching the Union’s winless run. None of the other playoff teams, though, have gone more than two games without a win.

Only one other team in the last dozen years has entered the playoffs on a seven-game winless run: The 2013 Seattle Sounders, which stumbled into the playoffs on an 0-4-3 record. That team won a Wild Card playoff game, 2-0 against Colorado, before losing in the Western semifinals to Portland.

In the past, how have similar strugglers fared? For this, I looked at MLS Cup playoffs dating to 2004. I defined the category as any team with a winless streak of five or more games to end the regular season or just one win in their last seven or more games. Eleven teams fit the bill (record to end the regular season in parenthesis):

2013 Montreal Impact (1-6-1)
2013 Seattle Sounders (0-4-3)
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps (1-6-3)
2011 Real Salt Lake (0-4-2)
2010 Columbus Crew (1-3-3)
2009 Chicago Fire (1-2-4)
2008 New England Revolution (0-4-2)
2007 FC Dallas (1-5-2)
2006 D.C. United (1-4-2)
2006 Colorado Rapids (0-2-3)
2004 San Jose Earthquakes (0-3-4)

Of those 11 teams, none lifted MLS Cup. But five of the 11 won playoff ties. Four of those won two-leg ties, while Seattle in 2013 is the only to win a one-game wild card, though that is a newer addition to the playoff scheme. Three of the strugglers have played wild card games; Seattle in 2013 is the only one to win, though they were also the only one to host their game.

Four teams have won two-leg games: RSL in 2011, Chicago in 2009, and D.C. and Colorado (in PKs) in 2006. None of the teams has even made the MLS Cup final, the closest being Chicago in 2009, losing in PKs to RSL.

That sets long but not unreachable odds for the Union to extend their postseason.

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