Seattle Sounders' 2012 Schedule is MLS' Easiest (Most Advantageous) [Updated]

Cheer up, Fredy. 2012 is gonna be a cake walk.

File this one under the category: most likely to attract choice commentary from Seattle Sounders supporters.

As the Sounders-less MLS First Kick fast approaches, we here at Stumptown Footy are spooling up the statistical analysis drives in preparation for the 2012 campaign. Lacking much in the way of hard data so far, with just one preseason match under our belt, we've decided to start with the schedule. It's a pretty straightforward process.

Step 1. download an MLS schedule in .csv format (the linked schedule has three errors in it -- bonus points to whomever finds them first!)
Step 2. link it to 2011 stats
Step 3. feverishly comb the data for interesting tidbits.

As we've gleaned from the discussion to date about the unbalanced schedule, Western Conference teams up and down the 2011 table will almost certainly have a more difficult 2012 schedule, because of the disparity between the conferences. Two thirds of the Portland Timbers' matches will come against Western competition, including three matches each against the MLS' top four teams. Eastern Conference teams will have it much easier, as they must play those four top teams only once each.

But adding insult to injury for a Timbers fan is this: while the Sounders are facing a challenge similar to the rest of the Western Conference, they will enjoy a distinct home/away advantage in the unbalanced schedule -- a greater advantage, in fact, than any other team, in either conference. The teams the Sounders will face in Seattle this year won an average of almost two more matches in 2011 than the teams they will face away from home.

In other words, on average, Seattle will have home field advantage against the league's best teams, while they enjoy one of the easiest road schedules.

I'll explain my bold claim after the jump.

For each match each team plays in 2012, I've calculated the 2011 points per match of each opponent. For the 2012 season, then, each team gets an average opposing ppm in home matches, and an average opposing ppm in away matches. Then I subtracted the average away from the average at home to get a home/away advantage in each team's schedule. Finally, I multiplied the difference by 34, the number of matches in the season.

*Note: for the purposes of this analysis I gave the Montreal Impact the 2011 record of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

As you can see, the Sounders' 2012 home opponents took an average of 5.47 more points in 2011 than did their 2012 road opponents. Indeed, the Sounders have the benefit of facing the Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, and the Colorado Rapids twice each at home. They also get to play host to the top teams in the east, Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, and the Columbus Crew, while playing their Eastern Conference away matches in places like New England, Montreal and DC.

Contrast Seattle's cushy schedule with RSL's -- their away opponents earned an average of 5.71 points more in 2011 than their home opponents. The LA Galaxy's schedule is no picnic either. No wonder the Emerald City Supporters went along with the unbalanced Cascadia Cup math -- if they play as well as they did in 2011, their home/away advantage should be more than enough to hand them the Supporters Shield.

Of course, that's a big "if." Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more preseason analysis, including whether "der Schatz aus Graz" can fill the big, bald shoes of Kasey Keller.

Update, 2/8/12: at the thoughtful suggestion of several commenters, I've adjusted the table below, giving Montreal the average of the 2011 records of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. In this adjusted scenario Seattle's advantage remains the strongest, albeit somewhat less so, while Toronto FC slips past RSL for the distinction of having the least advantageous schedule.

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