Fun Stats With the MLS

It’s Sunday and about 122 degrees in Seattle, so with time to goof around, I thought I’d do some quick stats analysis on the MLS Playoff race.

In the East, it looks like everyone but New York is still in the hunt, as the other 6 teams have between 21 and 30 points. In baseball terms, that means the 6th place team is 3 games back with 13 to play. So, that’s a pretty close race. In the West, it’s a similar chase, with 5 teams between 27-32 points, and a 6th team lurking with 23. So in the American system, realistically 12 out of 15 teams have chances at 8 Playoff births, so that seems to indicate a pretty nutty race to the finish.




So for fun, let’s say we played the same way as the EPL, and just had everyone racing for the title without a playoff system. On the left is what you would get as you enter the final third of the season. Still a remarkably tight race. Everyone is chasing Houston, but 11 teams are still really within 3 games with 11 or more to play.

So, two questions: 1) Why does the MLS have such a competitive race down the stretch, and 2) How does this compare to a league like the EPL?

Question 1 is interesting. One *could* surmise that the talent is of low enough caliber in general that most of the players are kind of the same. You could also surmise that the hardest thing to do in soccer is score, and the MLS just doesn’t have enough scorers so you see a lot of ties. Another acceptable answer is that in the middle of the season, players are asked to join their National teams for World Cup Qualifying, Confederations Cup or Gold Cup. The best players get picked away, and they are probably on the best teams, so all of a sudden a top team loses two-three starters and gets drubbed a few times.


Now let’s compare “Points per Match” between the EPL and MLS. Quite simply, the best teams in EPL win more than the best teams in MLS. Which confirms our theory of a lack of good scorers leading to more ties.

Now, it’s easy for a snobby European to say, “Playoffs have no business in soccer. We use tables and season long standings to decide our league winner.” (Which is true, except they also have an FA Cup Tournament which is really a long playoff, and also, in the lower divisions top 2 records automatically get promoted, but the 3-6th place teams battle in a 4 team playoff to see who else gets to move up.)

While I would ordinarily side on the side of English football and tradition, I have to admit that having the Sounders in the middle of a 6 team race for 4 Playoff spots is pretty exciting. 

However, is the playoff system causing more ties?  Are teams just trying to get a single point in order to be the 8th best team? If that’s the case, maybe the EPL system would be better for the MLS.  So what do you think is better – a league where everyone is in the hunt the last few months of the season, or a league where there is more motivation to get a win instead of a tie, even if it means more teams eliminated earlier?

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