03 May 2006

Week 5 Pace Check

I wrote earlier about tracking the MLS regular season of all teams in MLS in relation to the two things that the regular season matters for: Winning the Supporter's Shield (earning a Champions Cup bid) and making the playoffs. There's been some talk about this being DC United's best start in years, but what exactly does that mean in the big picture? This is an attempt to give you a sense of some of the benefits of DC's strong start. With all teams in MLS having completed four games, let's take a look at the Supporter's Shield pace comparisons.

Supporter's Shield Pace

The graph below shows the performance of all teams in MLS relative to the pace needed to historically win the Supporter's Shield. When looking at this graph, I don't recommend comparing one team against another. What matters is whether or not a team is in positive or negative territory. While there are three teams currently at shield pace or better (Kansas City, DC United, and FC Dallas), historic data says that at least two of them will fall off the pace. All you want is to be the team in positive territory at the end of the season:

So, after 5 games played, DC United is ahead of shield pace, but only just. What matters about winning the Supporter's Shield is that you have to win, it's not enough just not to lose. Losses, however, are costly. Given that Shield Pace is 2ppg, that means you can make up at most one point on Shield pace for each win. For Real Salt Lake, it means they now need to put together a 9 game winning streak just to make it back to the pace level. Ouch. To put it another way, RSL can win half their remaining games and draw half their remaining games and would still be 9 points off of pace. Wins matter, and the start to the season has almost put RSL our of the Supporter's Shield competition. Even more shocking? A few more losses for New England (currently -4pts from Shield pace), and they'll be in the same boat.

Playoff Pace

The race for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference will show similar graphs, but the meaning changes. After DC's strong start, they have a small cushion on playoff pace (two straight losses at this point would still not be enough for them to be behind pace).

The interesting development is at the bottom, where four teams are behind pace. What this means is that New England, Columbus, New York ,and Chicago can't expect to get into the playoffs by playing at their current rate and hoping two other teams do worse. Historically, at least two of those teams will improve and get into positive territory by the end of the season. Chicago seems a good bet to be one of those teams, given that they are currently on the Road Trip of Death and are still less than 1 point from playoff pace. Everyone assumes New England will be the other, but they need to show some life.


At 03 May, 2006 10:50, Blogger I-66 said...

Ha... Bunch of Bull are Pink. I love it.

At 03 May, 2006 10:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not always true that you have to win, not just not lose, to get the Shield. In 2004 Columbus had two less wins than Kansas City yet tied them in points (and IIRC won the Shield on some tiebreaker or other) because of its league-leading 13 ties. That might have been an aberration of course, but nevertheless, it's all about points, not just wins.

At 03 May, 2006 11:21, Blogger D said...

I66: Of course :)

Anon: One of the things about Pace is that it is the Miniumum number of points to earn per game in order to have NEVER lost the Supporter's shield since 2001 (since we had draws then). The minimum pace came in 2005, set by San Jose at 2 points a game (New England finished second at 1.83ppg) 2004 was the lowest shield winner at 1.63ppg, which worked fine for 2004, but would not have worked in 2005.

Now, I should admit that 2.0ppg is probably not going to be needed to win the shield, and that 1.8ppg might do it. Still, the fact that 1.8ppg didn't work in 2005 meant I had to set the pace to the 2005 level. In ten years or so, I can start discarding outliers...

At 03 May, 2006 11:51, Anonymous Oscar said...

But the regular season is supposed to be maeningless ... meaningless! Especially the start ...

Great work though. 3 points in April is the same as 3 points in September and teams can set themselves up for the playoffs better by starting the season right.

Another interesting avenue to explore would be to try to predict the pace needed to win this season at the all star break. If one team goes on a winning streak, I'd suspect the pace for other teams would rise. What if there were suddenly a lot of ties, would that lower the pace needed to win? Maybe not in aggreagate but probably per team. That is, if your team goes on a tie streak, your pace has to go up to make up for lost ground.

At 03 May, 2006 13:29, Blogger D said...

Oscar: That's exactly what I am trying to look for here. Is the regular season meaningless? Or will a strange 3 game losing streak in May have immense ramifications... Thanks for the comment.


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