Steve Fenn quickly on the MLS Cup … and proving TSG was just taking a quick break.
When handicapping Saturday’s MLS Cup Final, some will refer to the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo’s only meeting this season. On May 26, Houston hosted the Galaxy and came away with a 2-1 victory. That result is barely relevant, though, because both sides have changed a great deal in the last six months. On that day, Bruce Arena didn’t play Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, or Josh Saunders. Likewise, if Oscar Boniek Garcia, Kofi Sarkodie, Mac Kandji & Ricardo Clark were wearing orange in May, it was only on account of bad fashion sense.
Similarly, these clubs’ overall records have little bearing on the championship match because in 2012; they’ve seldom been as healthy as they are right now. Why not narrow the focus to those matches played by the squad’s best players? After all, it’s no secret that the Galaxy improved when Omar Gonzalez’ returned from injury, and Houston became a better team after acquiring Oscar Boniek Garcia.
LA’s Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez did not play together often in the regular season, logging at least 225 minutes combined in only 8 matches. However, they were together the first 4 matches of the playoffs, until Landon sat out the 2nd leg in Seattle due to injury. The Dynamo’s trio of Boniek Garcia, Davis, and Will Bruin shared the field more often, logging 225+ for 14 regular season fixtures, and all 5 playoff matches.
Comparing 12 LA matches with 19 for Houston, outcomes obviously have to be recorded on a per match basis. This initially looks quite favorable to LA, with the Galaxy earning 1.83 points per game, and a 0.67 goal differential, while Houston only got 1.74 points per game and a 0.53 goal differential while fielding a relatively full strength squad. However, with samples like this, opponent strength has to be taken into account.
To adjust for strength of schedule, the opponents’ overall goal differential is added to individual matches’ GD. Then, to correct for home field advantage, the overall 2012 MLS home-away GD of .489 is subtracted from home matches and added to away matches.
When at full strength, the adjusted goal differentials of the Galaxy and Dynamo are remarkably similar, with LA coming in at .594, and Houston outscoring their opponents by .584. Statistically, this isn’t a significantly margin. The only edge comes from LA’s home field advantage, which is worth around half of a goal. The Galaxy are the favorites, but within a single match this Dynamo team with Boniek Garcia, Davis, and Bruin are quite capable of an upset.