The Two Conference System: The Supporter's Shield and an Unbalanced Schedule

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at East vs. West and how the unbalanced schedule has affected the league.

With three weeks left in the season, the playoff field in both the Eastern and Western Conferences has yet to be set and no clear front runner has emerged in the race for the Supporter's Shield. With five teams all within three points of each other at the top of the league, and only one team having clinched a playoff spot, anything could happen.

Looking back to beginning of the year, however, this seems somewhat surprising. Predictions that the West contained the league's most talented teams were common. However, as we come to the end of the season, the West never managed to dominate the league in the way that some thought they would.

To figure out just what happened, and if the unbalance between the conferences has affected the standings this season, I decided to take a look at the 89 cross conference games played this year.

Supporter's Shield Contenders

New York Red Bulls

53 points from 32 games played. 59 possible points.

Cross Conference Play
Wins Losses Ties Goals For Goals Against
Goal Differential
Overall 3 2 4 15 16 -1
Home 3 1 0 8 5 +3
Away 0 1 4 7 11 -4

In their nine cross conference games the Red Bulls posted 1.44 points per game, a markedly lower number than their overall PPG of 1.66.

Real Salt Lake

52 points from 32 games played. 58 possible points.

Cross Conference Play

Wins
Losses
Ties
Goals For
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Overall
4
4
2
18
13
+5
Home
2
2
1
9
5
+4
Away
2
2
1
9
8
+1

RSL also posted a lower PPG in cross conference play, a 1.40 vs a 1.63 overall, giving them a very similar drop to New York.

Sporting Kansas City

51 points from 31 games played. 60 possible points.

Cross Conference Play

Wins
Losses
Ties
Goals For
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Overall
3
4
2
15
10
+5
Home
2
2
1
9
6
+3
Away
1
2
1
6
4
+2

SKC had a much larger drop off than RSL or NYRB. With an overall PPG of 1.65, SKC only put up 1.22 PPG against Western Conference teams.

Seattle Sounders

51 points from 30 games played. 63 possible points.

Cross Conference Play

Wins
Losses
Ties
Goals For
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Overall
5
2
3
14
9
+5
Home
2
1
1
7
3
+4
Away
3
1
1
7
6
+1

The Sounders lead the league right now on PPG with a 1.7 overall and a large part of that number has been their success against Eastern Conference teams, which has left them with a PPG of 1.8 in cross conference play.

Portland Timbers

50 points from 31 games played. 60 possible points.

Cross Conference Play

Wins
Losses
Ties
Goals For
Goals Against
Goal Differential
Overall
4
2
4
15
8
+7
Home
2
1
2
10
5
+5
Away
2
1
2
5
3
+2

Of the teams competing for the Shield, the Timbers have a cross conference PPG, 1.60, that is closest to their overall PPG, 1.61.

Everyone Else

Cross Conference Play
East Wins Ties West Wins
Overall 26 23 40
In the East 18 12 15
In the West 8 11 25

That is a PPG of 1.13 in cross conference games for Eastern Conference teams and 1.60 for Western Conference teams.

In Major League Soccer, home field advantage is hugely important., so the relative success of the Western Conference while on the road to the east coast is somewhat surprising. It does, however, seem to indicate that the West is the stronger Conference.

How did these results affect the regular season?

Western Conference teams average 44.9 points per team and Eastern Conference team average 40.8 points per team this year. Playoff teams in the West average 49.8 points, while in the East they average 48.4 points each. The disparity between the whole conference and just the playoff teams is one and a half times as large in the East (7.6 points) as it is in the West (4.9 points).

In combination with the big disparity in the points from cross conference play, these results would seem to indicate that teams like the Red Bulls and SKC have been helped in their quest for the Supporter's Shield by facing off against weaker opposition.

How do you think the unbalanced schedule has affected the league this year? Let us know in the comments.

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