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.