In any sport it is difficult to tell which teams are truly better than others, in a prescribed span, especially two months into a season. It may make for great fan fodder—chest-beating and trolling—but that same fan who puffed himself out might be scurrying away a few months later when his team has taken an injury to a short Colombian play maker with brittle ankles. Nevermind.
Guaging soccer can be more difficult in soccer, where scoring occurrences are few and a random whistle or bounce can easily be a two-point, seemingly unearned, difference to a match’s outcome. Thank you MLS for your schedule randomization too: When the Seattle Sounders have only played 6 matches while the New York Red Bulls are already through 10, it gets more challenging in MLS.
Building off of last month’s attempt to quantify early season accomplishments it shows the writer was spot-on: The biggest MLS outliers in March results have already started to regress, but in tandem a few clubs are separating themselves– good or bad–from the high-parity center of the league.
March ended with data showing a few clubs whose offenses and/or defenses were operating at a highly-unsustainable level. This month instead of comparing 2013 results to historical ones, we look at March to April.
(Click here for interactive version where you can bring in previous season, sort by club, etc.)
Like Tebowmania, Chivas’ offensive madness has come crashing down under the weight of a larger sample size. Chelis chest-beating so to speak should be in regression.
The shots on goal in Goatland have stayed consistent, but their goals are down from 2.0 per game to 1.5 for the season to date. Still higher than expected, but back to Earth. Likewise, Houston has fallen off and Chicago has improved by half a goal per game.
Interestingly, shots on target have been even more volatile month-to-month than goals. The averages of Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Columbus have all fallen by at least a shot on goal, while those of Philadelphia and Sporting Kansas City have improved by the same degree.
San Jose came close, getting on frame 3.89 times per game so far, versus 3.0 through the first month.
Defensively, the Fire bounced back across goals and shots on target after their horrid opening month. Portland reduced their goals significantly though Donovan Ricketts was challenged just as often. Meanwhile, the DC United defense looks as broken down as Kobe Bryant up against Russell Westbrook post-Achilles, with their goals allowed climbing from 1.0 to 1.6, despite their shots on frame per match dropping by 1½.
Click here for interactive version sortable by conference and with a quantitative power ranking.
For results through April, a slight adjustment was made to xGDPG to correct for the skew given extreme 2012 performers. Rather than make schedule appear easier or harder simply because clubs don’t play themselves, their full 2013 xGDPG was subtracted from the cumulative xGDPG through April.
The majority of clubs are huddled together around the middle of this graph, performing very close to expectations and showing that thus far none of them seem to be particularly stronger than the others.
Houston, LA, Dallas, Seattle, & San Jose have had the easiest schedules so far, with LA & FCD overacheiving, the Sounders & Quakes disappointing, & the Dynamo hitting expectations almost exactly.
DC United, Chivas USA, New England, and Portland have had the easiest road to this point, and while DC managed to perform even worse than expected, the Goats and Timbers outdid themselves, and the Revs more or less toed the line.
One of the best applications of this data could be comparing those clubs whose records appear very similar on the surface.
Houston is currently sitting on 14 point, while Portland has 13, but when you see that Portland has done so through tougher fixtures, the Timbers achievement is much more impressive. Especially when you consider that schedule strength will more or less even out in the end.
There’s certainly a lot of season left, but if you think wait and see is still the order of the day, consider last season.
At this time in 2012, the 4 clubs with the most PPG, Sporting KC, San Jose, Seattle, and RSL were still top four season’s end. In fact, points per game on May 1, 2012 correlated to full season PPG at R²=0.6415. Goal difference per game was a slightly better predictor, with an R² of 0.677.
For the non-mathletes on PEDs who’ve gotten this far, that means that even though the MLS season isn’t a-third over, the results thus far are likely very meaningful to the final 2013 table.
Someone else will have to go on a tear to keep LA, Montreal, or Dallas from taking the Supporters Shield, with the Timbers and Crew seeming to be the most likely usurpers.
Meanwhile if DC United and Chicago don’t figure things out very quickly they will get stuck slogging through a long, hopeless summer and fall.