Sounders FC’s situation isn’t good. Losing the first leg of a playoff series, especially at home, never will be.
But how bad is it?
That’s something I wanted to explore this morning in the aftermath of Seattle’s 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field. Turns out, it hasn’t been impossible for lower-seeded teams to make up the deficit and win the series.
In fact, the comebacks have happened two of the last three years and three of the last eight occurrences. Overall, the home team has lost the first leg 11 times since the league implemented two-game, aggregate-goals series for the conference semifinals in 2003.
(Note: MLS changed the conference finals to two-leg series in 2012, but neither of the home teams lost the first leg last season)
As another relevant note, all three comebacks involved the West’s No. 4 seed and the No. 1 seed, exactly the same as this Seattle-Portland series. Here is a quick look at the history:
2012 — Los Angeles lost to San Jose, 1-0, at home and came back to win, 3-1, in the road leg.
2010 — San Jose lost to New York, 1-0, at home and came back to win, 3-1, in the road leg.
2006 — Colorado lost to Dallas, 2-1, at home and came back to win, 3-2, in the road leg and then advanced after winning a penalty kick shootout.
You’ll notice each team had just a one-goal deficit going into the road leg, another example of why Osvaldo Alonso‘s 90th-minute goal was so important. Teams are 0 for 4 when losing the first leg at home by multiple goals.
Here were all the failed instances:
2011 — Colorado, Philadelphia, New York all lost at home in first leg and lost the series. Rapids were only ones to lose by multiple goals.
2010 — Seattle lost the first leg at home to Los Angeles, 1-0, and couldn’t come back.
2006 — New York lost the first leg at home to D.C. United, 1-0, and couldn’t come back.
2004 — The MetroStars lost the first leg at home to D.C. United, 2-0, and couldn’t come back.
2003 — D.C. United and the MetroStars each lost by multiple goals at home in first leg and were eventually knocked out.
Overall, teams that lost the first leg, either home or away, have come back to win 11 of 29 times. Since that number is 3 of 11 when losing at home, that means teams that lose the first leg on the road have come back home to win the series 8 of 18 times (Seattle is 0 for 2 in that regard).
How much does history help the Sounders? Well, not much, maybe it provides some semblance of confidence, but hopefully this look helps to show that it can be done.