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Making the MLS Playoffs: A How to Guide

Finally the first game of the MLS season is here! With that said there are two distinct levels of expectations for the different clubs. The first expectation for the elite level clubs is to win the MLS cup or in the Case of the New York Redbulls is to win the Supporter's Shield. Realistically there are 3 or 4 contenders a year, this year it is looking like those contenders will be NYRB, Los Angeles Galaxy, and Real Salt Lake. Our neighbors to the north would like to add the Sounders to that list but I am still skeptical if they can push their way into the contender status.

The rest of the teams fall into the category off "Let's make the playoffs and hope we get hot and win it all". They really aren't contenders but with the way the Playoffs have gone the past three or four years where a lower seed has won the MLS cup anything is possible.

For obvious reasons Portland would count this season as a success if they were in the playoff race come August or September. Making the playoffs would be gravy but not necessary for the long term growth of this franchise. So the what does it take to make the playoffs?

Well I looked at the last 4 seasons final overall standings as these are usually used to determine which teams made the playoffs. For a while there it seemed the playoff format changed every year. Usually it was the top X number of teams from each conference and then the best X of the rest. For example 2007 was the top 2 teams from each conference and then the next 4 based on points, which ended up having 2 from each conference. However in 2008 it was the top 3 teams in each conference and then the next two, the wild cards both came from the east that year.

More after the jump.

Here are the final overall standings for your viewing pleasure. Okay I spent a good solid 30 mins trying to get the amazing table I made with a lot of hard work entering in data I got from but it wasn't formating correctly so I gave up and found the tables on Wikiepdia.


See the standings here. The lowest point total to get in was Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire with 40 points. The top team was DC united with 55 points. Looking a little closer at the win totals DC won twice as much as they lost or tied. While KC and the Fire won, tied or lost almost at the exact same rate.


See the standings here. The lowest point total to get in was New York Red Bulls with 39. The Supporter's shield winners was the Columbus Crew with 57. Again the Crew won twice as much as their tie or loss totals. New York won the same amount as they tied or loss.


See the standings here. The lowest point total to get in was Real Salt Lake with 40 (3 teams tied that year at 40 pts). The Supporter's Shield was the Columbus Crew at 49 points. Columbus only won 3 times more than the tied but won almost twice as much as they lost. RSL again was slight different from previous years as they lost more often than they tied or won.

The lower point total for the Shield winners drew my eye. When I took the total amount of ties for the league in the last 4 years I noticed that 2009 year had 138 ties, the next closest year was last year with 116. Apparently no team wanted to win and they all decided to settle for ties.


See the standings here. The lowest point total was the San Jose Earthquakes with 46 points and the Colorado Rapids. The Supporter's Shield winner was the LA Galaxy with 59 points. LA had well over twice as many wins as they did losses or ties. While even the lowest teams had more wins then losses or ties.


Now that we have looked at the overall standings lets do some math, nothing too hard I promise. I wanted to find out if there is a specific threshold you have to hit in order to make the playoffs. There are two things I looked at, average wins, losses and ties and percentage of points accumulated. I calculated percentage of points by taking the total amount of points you could obtain (in every year it was 90, 30 times 3 points) and then divided the amount of points they actually won with the total points possible.

Here is what I found out:

Supporters Shield winner had an average win total of 16 while the loss and ties were 7 and came away with 55 points. The Last team in had an average point total of 41.25 with 11.25 wins, 11.25 losses and 7.5 ties. So judging but that the obvious answer is you at least have to win just as often as you lose to make the playoffs, which will lead you to about 40 points. However with the change in the amount of games played from 30 to 34 this would bump up the threshold to 45.3 points.

For percentage of points won the average was 61.1% for the supporters shield winners. While the the last team in had a average percentage of 43.9%. For this next year that means the percentage needed to make the playoffs would be 44.8 ppoints, pretty close to the win, loss and tie averages threshold.

What does this mean for Timbers is this, if they win just under half of their home games,lets say 8 wins at home with 24 points, then they would have to come up with a minimum of 21 points from their road games or the reaming home games they did not win. So what the Timbers need to do is make Jeld-Wen Field a true "House of Pane" for the opposing players. If they win 8 games and then tie the remaining 9 they would have 33 points. Picking up 11 points on the road is doable.

Long story short, the playoffs are possible but we need to win as many home games as possible.