The two biggest factor in the relative strength of the and total number of points in the Eastern Conference are the number of ties and the East record against the West, as we’ve discussed before. Changes to these factors will cause the playoff red line to go up or down.
Last year the East just stopped playing to draws in the last quarter of the season. Only 16.7% of East draws came in that last 25% of the season.
Also, last year the East earned 1.14 PPG against the West in the first 85 interconference games through August. Then the East went 8-4-3 for 1.80 PPG against the West in the last 2 months.
There is no reason to think the East will do either of those again, but there was no reason to think they would do it last year either.
The East played 66 draws combined all last year. This year the total is already 76. I think the playoff line might go above where it is currently pointing at 42 or so, but not nearly as much as it did last year.
In a conference in which 7 out of 10 teams have 1 or 0 road wins,* I would also note that the H/A breakdown for each contender is NYC 5/6, TOR 7/5, NJRB 6/5, PHI 5/7, and MTL 7/6. Combine that with the opponents PPG and I think Philly has the toughest schedule, and Toronto’s H/A split pushes their schedule closer to ours in terms of ease.
Finally I did a really granular comparison of Toronto’s schedule to ours. We have 4 identical games, same opponent and same H/A. We have one (NER) where we play the same team, but at Home for Toronto and Away for us. That’s a slight advantage Toronto but we can certainly win in New England. That leaves 7 Toronto games and 6 NYCFC that don’t overlap at all. Of their 7, 5 are against current playoff teams, with 3 Home and 2 Away. Of our 6, 2 are against current playoff teams with 2 Home.
Toronto’s toughest games are Philly and Montreal Away, then Philly Montreal and Red Bulls at Home. Ours are probably SJ Away and FCD and LAG at Home. Advantage us I think.
And since people like to consider multi-game weeks. We have none. Toronto had one this week and 2 more. But the schedule makers were still kind to Toronto. This week their travel was Home-Home-Home. The next one is PHI-ORL-Home(v MTL). And the last one for Toronto is Home-Home-Home. So while their roster gets stretched they are not not getting killed with crazy travel.
Toronto’s schedule is so weird, and more imbalanced than ours. Ours evened up last week, and we never go more than +/-1 H/A the rest of the year. TFC almost but not quite gets even this week, but then 4 of their next 5 are on the road, and then they finish with 5 of their last 6 at home. And their opponents in those last 5 home games are terrible on the road. If Toronto can get through the 4 of 5 Away stretch and are close to us with 6 remaining they will be in very good shape.
While it takes 3 things to go perfect for them, Toronto can catch us this week.. They are 6 points back (I’m quite sure this time) and play two games this week. If they win both and we lose in San Jose, we’ll be tied and have the same number of wins. They would be ahead of us on Goal Differential. Both of their games are at home. Midweek they host RSL, who have done well on the road against the East, but coming off their win in Philadelphia yesterday they either will do a lot of travel in a short time or spend the half-week away from home and their regular training routine. Either hurts them. I’m worried about Toronto more than the Union so I’m really hoping RSL can pull out another result here. Toronto then plays the Revs Saturday night. New England will be rested but Toronto has no travel and the Revs are not so good. For the record, I rank our Eastern rivals in order as
Toronto, just slightly ahead of
Philadelphia, who are slipping, then a much larger gap to
Orlando, who I think will make the playoffs but has <1% chance of finishing first, and
the rest who don’t make the playoffs.
I think it pretty unlikely we finish lower than third and are at about 60% to finish First or Second and skip the first round of the playoffs.
We started the season with 7 points in 8 games. That’s 0.88 PPG and a cume of 1.05 PPG in 42 games with last season. Since then we are at 1.93 PPG over 15 games.
We also started the season with 18 points in the first 15 games for 1.20 PPG and 1.12 over 49 games cume with last year. Since then we won 18 points in 8 games for 2.25 PPG.
In 2014, New England had a 1.15 PPG over its first 20 games which featured both a 5-game winning streak and an 8-game losing streak. They finished with 2.29 PPG over the last 14 and 55 points overall.
Last year when we were in a truly hopeless situation people sometimes pointed to the 2014 Revs as a reason to hope, but at our best we were barely as good as them at their worst. This year we kind of look like them if you take your glasses off and squint a little.
We have a 3-game Home winning streak.
We had 6 Draws in the first 14 games, and none in the last 9.
We are 4-2-0 against the West 2.0 PPG.
We are 6-5-6 against the East 1.41 PPG.
So if we were in the West we’d be in 1st Place of that tough conference, just like we’re in the middle of the East table…. Oh wait, it doesn’t work that way.
We are 4-3-5 at Home 1.41 PPG.
We are 6-4-1 on the Road 1.73 PPG.
Our Goal Differential against the entire league excluding NJRB is +8.
Our GD against the West is +5. The rest of the East against the West is -18.
Last week there were 4 teams capable of catching us with the help of just one NYCFC loss or less. Toronto kept pace, but Philly lost, and Montreal and NJRB drew. So we now have a minimally bigger cushion, but spots 1 through 5 in the table are really quite tight and the team cannot afford to start dropping points. Plus the Impact and Red Bull draws were on the road and both were earned with goals after the 85-minute mark. This was not a bad week of East Conference results but it was not as good as it nearly was, or should have been.
Right now we sit top of the East with projected 53 points. The last time the East winner had that few points was SKC in 2011 with 51 (the first year they played 34 games). The next lowest East winners since then had 59 points.
My what-we-need-to-do chart doesn’t even go up to 59, but figure we need to win 7 or 8 of the remaining 11.
Think on this: we could get to 50 points with a losing record here on out.
Last year Montreal only had to get 5 or 6 points out of the extra 5 games they had in hand for most of the summer to put real distance between them and NYCFC. We were usually just a few points behind them all year and they spent a lot of time in sixth place. They were deceptively close and gave people false hope, because it seemed like one win by us and one loss by them and we would be in great shape.
Right now, in contrast, Toronto is 9 points back of us with 3 games in hand. They have to win all 3 just to get even with us. That’s worth knowing, because it is a possibility. We are not as far ahead of them as a 9-point lead seems. But we are, in fact, ahead of them.
For me the expected easy part of the schedule where I thought we should have built up points was the first 9 games. Six at Home, only 3 Away, and the 3 Away were Chicago, Philly and Columbus. Philly and Columbus traded places in terms of how strong they are this year so that’s a wash. The home opponents are less important because good MLS teams should be able to beat everyone at home. Chicago and Houston in 10th place each have winning records at home. We have the worst Home record in the league. As it happens our 6 opponents for those early home games included only 3 teams currently in the playoffs, and they are at positions 5 (TOR) 6 (NER) and 6 (VAN). At the end of those 9 games we had 10 points and we should have had 17-22 out of 27.
One additional note on the schedule. Before the season I did a quick prediction of W-L-D for every game. I was intentionally optimistic and it came to 51 points. I have since been comparing actual results to those predictions. This is of course even less scientifically rigorous than anything else I post here. I spent about 5 minutes on this pre-season, and it really reflected my view of the schedule more than anything else. After 8 games the team had a 14 point deficit to my prediction. After a 3 game win streak the deficit was down to 5 by Game 11, but climbed back to 14 after the loss to RSL. Right now the deficit is at 5. My optimistic prediction to get to 51 points had us at 38 now, and going only 3-5 4 from here to the end of the season. Currently I think we can do better than that and have a decent shot at erasing this fictional deficit. But I think predictions are hard, especially when they concern the future.
One quirk I just noticed is that NYCFC is done playing all of other top 4 teams in the East for the rest of the season. The remainder of the East Conference games for the Blue Meanies are against teams currently ranked 6 through 10 on the Table.* That’s should be good for us. Meanwhile, MTL, PHI, RB and TFC all play the others 5 times each between now and the end of the season. That’s 10 games where as of now we’ll be hoping for ties. At worst, one of the teams comes out of those games with nothing.
* In contrast, of our 5 remaining games against the West, 3 are against teams currently sitting in spots 1 through 3 in the West Table.