29 August 2007

The Supporter's Shield Pace Report: August 29, 2007

We've had a few calls (including one today) for an update on the race for the Supporter's Shield, and since we haven't looked at things since May it seems like a good time to do so. We'll start with a league wide look, and then look at the implications for DC United towards the end of this post. For those that aren't familiar with this concept, we essentially envisioned a "pace team" that average 1.9 points-per-game in its results, and then map all the other teams against them. 1.9 was selected since any team since the elimination of the shootout that averaged 1.9 ppg would have won the supporter's shield. In fact, teams have won the shield with less ppg, as in 2004 when Columbus took the shield with only 1.63ppg. However, that's not a safe rate of return, as New England's 2005 return of 1.84ppg probably would have been good enough in any other year, but they lost out to San Jose's blistering 2.0ppg.

Okay, so here's how the teams have played out the season so far. Each week we check their point total against the pace team, and it maps out like this (click for larger view):

No team is on the pace right now, but some are clearly closer than others. D.C. United leads the pack, they're only 1 point off of the pace team through 21 games. There's also some pretty clear grouping in terms of the remaining teams. Given how difficult it is to sustain pace, a team that's the same number of points off the pace as another team but has played more games is probably in better shape than their supposed equal. Therefore, here are the top teams contending for the Supporter's Shield right now, in order:

  1. DC United (-1 pt with 21 Games Played [GP])
  2. New England Revolution (-2 pts with 23GP)
  3. CD Chivas USA (-2 pts with 21 GP)
  4. FC Dallas (-4 pts with 21 GP)
  5. Houston Dynamo (-6 pts with 23 GP)
For me, Chivas is perhaps the big surprise to see their name up here, but that's how it plays out. There are also a few teams that would require a tremendous run of results in the end of the season to make it, but are still at least remotely possible. New York at -9 pts though 22 GP and Kansas City with -10 pts through 22GP could conceivably put it together, but it would be difficult. The rest of the teams must pin their hopes the MLS Cup or a Superliga finish to get international play next year.

So how will it play out? Just for kicks, here are the remaining schedules for the top 5 contending teams, with bolded games being matches against other top 5 teams that could really affect the race:

D.C. United: @FCD, @CHV, NE, RSL, @CHI, TFC, @KC, CHI, CLB
New England Revolution: @DCU, FCD, @NY, COL, @CHI, CLB, @TFC
F.C. Dallas: DCU, TFC, @NE, CHI, @LA, HOU, @CLB, CHV, KC
Houston Dynamo: KC, RSL, @LA, @FCD, LA, RSL, @CHV

The big point staring us in the face is how large the next three games loom for United in the quest for the shield. All three have the potential to really set put things in United's favor, or put them in a spot where they are chasing the field without any six point swing games. Same deal for New England. The strength of schedule in the other games is comparable for pretty much all the teams, with perhaps New England having the most difficult and Houston having perhaps the easiest (although they have the most ground to make up of the top 5 right now). No one is running away with things yet. United can also go into the next three games and not be devestated by a draw in any one of them. Right now, draws hurt United less than the other five teams given that United is on top. 5 of 9 points from the next three games would probably be good enough to maintain United as a strong competitor. However, a quick losing streak would really hurt.

So what are we saying? I'm saying that right now the next three consecutive games have larger implications then you might think, especially that Chivas game. United's road gets much easier after that, but will it be easier to maintain their position, or easier to get back atop the table? That'll be the big question. Every game matters.

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At 29 August, 2007 11:47, Blogger EdTheRed said...

Thanks man...interesting stuff. These next three games for United are huge. Getting 5 points out of them would be very, very good (draw the Western Conf. teams on the road, beat NE at home for pole position in the East).

At 29 August, 2007 13:25, Anonymous brian said...

Well, pace IS the trick.

At 29 August, 2007 13:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want that Shield

At 29 August, 2007 13:51, Anonymous bdr said...

Can I bitterly point out that we would all be going to RFK tonight to see Super Liga championship v Pachuca if United had beaten the truly crappy LA Galaxy two weeks ago?

I mention this so perspective can be kept when considering Supporters.

At 29 August, 2007 14:04, Blogger The Bird said...

Thanks for the analysis! Great stuff.

Here's another question: Would you rather the team focus on the SS or the MLS Cup. Normally, the Shield is the real deal for me. It shows our depth and strength as a team in the long haul, rather than just the ability (and luck) needed to pull through 3 quick games.

However, with the Cup at RFK this year, I can just imagine a stadium sold out to cheer United to the final whistle! It's pretty amazing in my mind...

At 29 August, 2007 15:38, Blogger Charles said...

The supporter's shield would be THE hardware to get in the MLS, except for the division of the league into conferences, where one could argue that one conference was easier to get points in than the other and hence the SS winner may not be truly the best club. That said, I personally do put more weight on winning the supporter's shield it seems a bigger and less arbitrary accomplishment than the MLS cup.

However, it's the MLS cup that puts the stars on the uniform and I would love to see DC win it for a fifth time this year and become the Brasil of MLS ;) Until there's a single table, I would trade a supporter's shield for an MLS cup.

At 29 August, 2007 17:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you differentiate between home and road games? Example - Chivas has seven home and only three road games. That seems to have a better shot at making the pace you talk about than, say, DC with five home and four away matches.

As I see it, Chivas is first and Dallas second in terms of winning the Shield (number of games, home games) with DC and NE following them. Houston is the wild card as while they don't have a lot of games left (only seven) and only three are at home, they have the easiest schedule in terms of opponents.

With the Shield and SuperLiga 2008 on the line, this will be a very interesting race.

At 30 August, 2007 12:06, Anonymous diego r. said...

this is truly great analysis. I like Houston's shot of winning the shield mostly because they play home against the slumping Wizards and then a total of 4 games (3 at home) versus the awful LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake.

This is a year where the division of the league into two conferences makes the Shield less meaningful in terms of determining the best regular season team. A team in the western conference should have a much easier time of winning it because there are some terrible teams in the west and it is a weaker conference.

At 31 August, 2007 12:20, Blogger JCM said...

With no teams at the 1.9 PPG pace, it may not take 57 points to win the Supporter's Shield. I think 54 wins it. And while United does have four road games left, it's out of nine games. Only Chivas has played fewer games. Plus, four of United's final six games are at home, and they are by far the easiest group of games of any of the contenders (Columbus, RSL, Chicago, Toronto). United gets to look at what everyone else does and then make the push at home. I like Chivas and United to win their conferences with whoever gets to 54 points first as the Supporter's Shild winner.

At 31 August, 2007 15:11, Blogger Charles said...

Just out of curiosity- does anyone know what the protocol for SS is if there is a tie in points between two teams? is goal differential or head-to-head record? or something else?

At 01 October, 2007 13:49, Blogger henryo said...

In case of tie in points for SS, head-to-head records come first.

So Chivas'll need to finish at least a point ahead of DC to win it...

At 14 October, 2007 17:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With Chivas losing to Colorado today, we've clinched the SS.

It'd be interesting to see an updated pace report.


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