Steve Fenn with his second piece for The Shin Guardian
Sunday’s Superclasico between Chivas USA and LA Galaxy was one of the few matches we have left in this MLS season with major playoff implications. It was also a matchup between the two clubs most directly affected by MLS’ new playoff tiebreakers, announced last Wednesday. With the season over 70% gone for some clubs, it was announced that teams level on points will be ranked by:
1) Most total goals scored
2) Greatest goal differential
3) Fewest disciplinary points
4) Most road goals scored
5) Greatest road goal differential
6) Most home goals scored
7) Greatest home goal differential
8) Coin toss (for 2 teams) or drawing of lots (3 or more teams)
For those wondering what disciplinary points are, check this page which has both the current rankings and the calulation guidelines.
There are reasons to criticize this new standard, but Bruce Arena and others have covered those pretty well already. My main focus today is examining the standings, and the impact of this rule change on the already-underwhelming 2012 playoff race.
As we discussed a couple weeks ago, per game figures are much more telling than totals when clubs have played uneven numbers of matches. So, here’s the current league table with points, goals for, goal differential, and disciplinary points all broken down to per game figures:
Clearly, Chivas USA is the biggest loser in this new tiebreaker format (and did themselves no favors on Sunday). If they rally to tie LA on points, they would need to outscore them by 29 goals in the process. The Columbus Crew can’t be terribly pleased with the change either, but at least one of the teams they are trying to catch is the also-low-scoring Chicago Fire. If they do make up enough points to draw even with the Fire, it is at least possible that the Crew with 3 games in hand could outscore Chicago by 8 goals in the process.
The tough news for Chivas USA, the Crew, and all other playoff hopefuls is that one of top 5 in their conference would need to suffer a pronounced dip in form to give them a chance at the postseason.
Based on the new tiebreakers, I adjusting points needed from the last column based on goals scored, using Sports Club Stats<hyperlink http://www.sportsclubstats.com/USA/MLS.html > to level-set. I color-coded four tiers of goals scored which dictate that club’s point total needed: High-scorers in green, average clubs in yellow, low-scorers are red, and the profoundly anemic Chivas USA in purple. I also added a projected point total, which might be easier to follow than PPG:
The soft underbelly of 2012 MLS (everyone below the Crew and Chivas USA in the standings) can probably start planning for 2013 at this point. Everyone in that group has to average at least 2 PPG along with one of the top 5 clubs in their conference suffering a horrible dip in form. Does anyone anticipate Montreal, Philadelphia, Colorado, Dallas, New England, Portland, or Toronto suddenly getting better results than San Jose has thusfar? Stranger things have happened in sports, but it certainly doesn’t seem likely.
As you can see, the playoff race is surprisingly close to being over already. Which brings us back to Chivas and Columbus, easily the most likely clubs to shake up the playoff picture. Chivas took body blows this week from the new tiebreakers and then from the Galaxy. They have pretty tough schedule ahead with only one match against a team they have a prayer of overtaking (Vancouver), and will lose any tiebreaker they find themselves in.
Meanwhile, Columbus’ schedule is promising, with plenty of matches against the worst teams in MLS, and 1 match each against the 3 clubs they have the best chance to pass (though all 3 are on the road), and have a slight chance of overcoming the new tiebreakers as well. The Crew is easily the most likely to crash the playoff party this year. If you are a neutral that craves late-season drama, root for Columbus for a little while. If neither they nor Chivas makes a run, we may have little to track in the last month of the season besides seeding amongst the haves of 2012 MLS while the have-nots jockey for draft and allocation position.