We’re halfway through with 24 points and so the easy math says we project to 48. We’re also in second place and the playoff line sits at roughly 43 making our cushion nearly 5 points.
This was a very good week for us. We also jumped from Fifth to Second in the PPG standings (I believe that is the highest all year), and no longer does every team in the conference have games in hand on us (although most do).
Philadelphia might be slipping.
The Red Bulls cannot win on the road (except Yankee Stadium).
Our road record continues to impress (1.86 PPG) as does our record against the seemingly superior West (2.25 PPG).
Our overall PPG of 1.41 is a shade short of 0.3 better than anything we reached last year excluding thru the first 3 games.
We played most of the first half without a certain pair of English midfielders who make us demonstrably better. Barring more injuries, we should expect to be a better team in the second half than we were in the first.
As bad as our home record was, it just seems unlikely we can continue to drop as many late points at home as we did in the first half of the season.
Cup Half Empty
We have 10 road games left and no matter how good a road team we are it is tough to maintain road excellence. We might do it, but don’t discount the difficulty.
We also have 2 games left against the Red Bulls. I don’t believe we’re doomed to lose to them always but I also hate betting against a trend.
I expect 3 of the teams below the playoff line: Toronto, New England and Columbus, to make solid runs in the second half and improve. Toronto especially because they have 12 home games remaining and they’re not weird about H/A ratios like we are.
I could add more here and there, but on balance I’m currently in a Glass Half Full mood as the bullets suggest. The next 5 games will be huge as we play Red Bulls twice and 4 of the 5 are on the road. We either prove our Road Warrior record is real or not. Here are the PPG standings:
How Tough Is Our Road?
The previously mentioned the next 4 are not so bad considering. The Red Bulls have 6 home wins and 4 wins over losses but New England, SKC and Montreal are a combined 4 wins over losses total at home. Those 3 are road points looking to be grabbed. We are also lucky to get the Rapids in NY this year as they are 7 wins over losses at home to date. But, one item of worry is that our last 6 road games are among our hardest. As those teams have a combined 14 more wins than losses at home. I would really like to keep building our road record in the next 4 because the rest of the schedule is notably more difficult.
What Do We Need to Do?
Probably another 6 or 7 wins:
I prefer to hope we can manage 4 wins in our remaining 7 homes games, then squeeze out another 3 out of 10 on the road. Last year Vancouver and Portland tied for the league lead with 7 road wins. To match that would be a significant accomplishment. To exceed it would be outstanding., and likely guarantee a playoff spot.
I Think The 23 Set piece Goals in 26 Home Games Stat Is Very Wrong
HRB has this stat and doesn’t provide a source, and but the RSL announcers mentioned the 23 set-piece concessions at home stat (without adding how many games) during the condensed match. They said it right after the Burrito goal off a free kick. So they are probably the original source for this.
I went back and reviewed the summary and sometimes highlights of every game.
I count 12 set-pieces conceded last year, with 6 at home. This counts the SKC throw-in as a set-piece.
I count 8 this year, all at home. That adds up to 20 total, and 14 at home. If you want to be strict and exclude the throw-in it is 19 and 13.
It’s possible I missed one, or maybe even 2-3, but there’s no way I missed 9 home set-piece concessions. Plus I think I’m right.
We have in fact played 26 home games, so the stat has that going for it.
Here they are with the game number, date, H/A, Type, scorer, and minute 2015
1 3/8/2015 Orlando Away Free Kick kaka 91
4 3/28/2015 SKC Home throw-in Opara 13
11 5/15/2015 Chicago Home free kick Cocis header 14
13 5/30/2015 Houston Home corner kick Bruin header 16
14 6/6/2015 Philadelphia Away corner kick Sapong 46
17 6/28/2015 NJRB Home free kick Duvall 52
Home free kick Miazga 73
26 8/23/2015 Galaxy Away free kick (quick kick) Zardes 36
28 9/12/2015 Dallas Away corner kick Michel 45+
31 9/26/2015 Vancouver Away corner kick Amarikwa 72
32 10/2/2015 DC Away free kick Saborio 90+
34 10/25/2015 New England Home corner kick Rowe 55 2016
2 3/13/2016 Toronto Home free kick Perquis 45+
4 3/26/2016 New England Home free kick Tierney 38
8 4/27/2016 Montreal Home free kick Oduro 90
13 5/21/2016 NJRB Home corner McCarty 3
Home corner McCarty 51
Home free kick Veron 83
Home corner Baah 89
15 6/2/2016 RSL Home free kick Burrito 67
That’s still terrible but I guess qualifies as slightly positive news. I also note that both times we conceded more than once in a game has been to our favorite local energy drink team.
Also, 6 of them were at 45 to 45+ or 90 to 90+. That’s killer.
UPDATE: It probably is people counting PKs to make up the difference, but if so that’s a case of letting definitions confuse things. Nobody cares how well a team “defends” penalty kicks. Nobody defends penalty kicks well, and it’s a fundamentally different animal than corners and free kicks, even though they all start with a dead ball.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
As noted before, the playoff line jumped up quite a bit at the end of last season.
I tried to figure out what happened and found that it was at least in part a result of things that I think are unlikely to repeat. But let’s start with the slightly not-so-good news. Interconference Games
The East usually loses points when it plays the West and this suppresses the playoff line for the East. The MLS schedule lowers the number of interconference games in the last 2 months of the season. Last year there were 15 IC games in September and October, representing 15 of IC games during the last 20.5% of the season. This year there are only 11 IC games in the same period. This would actually cause the playoff line to go up compared to last year if form holds, but I’m not too concerned about that because f the next factor. Interconference Results
Last year the West outperformed the East earning 142 points in IC games to only 97 in the East during March through August. Then, for some reason, the East went on a tear winning 27 points the last 2 months compared to 15 for the West. That, I’m sure, did more to raise the playoff line in the East than the simple number of IC games. I’ve no idea why this happened, and no reason to expect it will repeat itself. It could of course, but there seems to be no reason to predict it will. If that is in fact the case, expect the line not to rise so much late in the season. Frequency of Ties
Last year there was an extremely low number of ties in the last quarter of the season. A game that ends with one team winning creates 3 points. A tie only creates 2. So ties lower the total number of points in the league and thereby lower the total number of points needed to make the playoffs. So I checked.
I divided the season into 4 quarters of 9-8-8-9 games, and then counted how many ties came in each quarter league wide. Ideally I would do this for East Conference games alone but that was too hard and I think this is a good enough proxy. Last year only 16.7% of the total ties for the year took place in the 4th quarter of the league schedule. That’s the lowest percentage for any quarter in the last 5 years. I found no trend that the 4th quarter tends to have the lowest number of ties. I did OTOH notice that in 4 of the last 5 years the second half of the season had an unusually-seeming number of ties: 43%, 55%, 46%, 42%, 35%. The average in those 5 years was that 44% of ties came in the second half of each season.
But then I went back to the previous 5 years and that trend disappeared and the second half tie percentages are 52%, 50%, 57%, 43%, and 51%, which yields a nice 50% average. Basically there is no pattern, but if you look for an anomaly the 4th quarter of 2015 had the third lowest percentage in MLS in the last 10 years. That is unlikely to repeat this year. Again, it could happen, but I see no reason to predict it. This would mean that again, the playoff line should not increase so much at the end of the season the way it did last year.
Specifically in the East, here is how each team just stopped generating tie games at the end of the season in 2015:
Chicago last draw August 29
Columbus last draw August 19
DC One draw after June
Montreal no ties in last 8 games
New England 1 draw after July
RB last draw August 5
NYC last draw August 19
Orlando one draw after August 8
Philadelphia one draw in last 9 games
Toronto no draws after July
The chances of this happening again are beyond my ability to calculate but it seems really unlikely. I do think the final playoff line will be higher than where it is right now, but I think it will be a few points lower than last year.