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Dissecting the MLS Standings: A Look at the Portland Timbers

Different ways to project or view MLS Standings with a specific focus on the Western Conference.

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Standings can be a very informative piece of information when one is looking on how well a team is playing in a given year. However, the information is incomplete and if you look at them at any point before the end of the season you will not get a complete story. Take for instance the Portland Timbers and the Real Salt Lake, who sit in two of the top three spots in the west.

Portland is currently third, with 22 points, behind RSL in second, with 24 points. However, Portland has played 2 less games than RSL and if they were to average their current points per game average they would earn 3 points over those two games. What this all means is that Portland in the final standings should come out ahead of RSL even though according to the current standings they are behind them in points.

All of this has lead me to find different ways to project or view the standings and today I wanted to share all of these with you.

Projected Standings

I am not statistician, but I am decent with math and excel, so I came up with my own method of projecting the final standings. I first calculate the home points per game and away points per game. Next, I calculate the points a team will earn from their remaining games if they continue to earn points at the same pace. Finally, I add all the numbers together to project the final standings.

Here are the Western Conference Standings:

Club Current Pts Games Played Projected points Final Standing
FC Dallas 28 14 64 1
Real Salt Lake 24 15 55 3
Portland Timbers 22 13 58 2
LA Galaxy 20 13 54 4
Colorado Rapids 20 14 49 6
Seattle Sounders FC 18 12 51 5
Vancouver Whitecaps 16 12 45 7
San Jose Earthquakes 15 15 32 8
Chivas USA 11 13 28 9

If you would like to see the whole sheet go here. (You can also see the Eastern Conference)

As you can see the projections are pretty close to what the standings are now except for the Seattle Sounders. They sneak into the playoffs as the 5th seed over the Colorado Rapids. They do so based on the fact that they have a better PPG at home and on the road compared to the Rapids.

Playoff chances

Over at they project the potential playoff chances. I stumbled upon this site about a year ago and it is something I visit on a weekly basis as it gives some very interesting pieces of information. The way they calculate the playoff chances is by simulating the remaining games and then using that information to project the standings. (For a more detailed breakdown go here)

According to this site Portland currently has a 88.9% chance of making the playoffs and a 9.8% chance of winning MLS Cup. They also have a 12.2% chance of winning the Supporter's shield. If Portland were to win against the Fire this weekend they boost their playoff chances to 92.9% and they boost their SS chances to 16.8%. A draw and/or loss affects the percentages negatively.

Tempo Free Ratings

I am not sure where or how I found this site but Tempo-Free Soccer attempts to look at possessions and passes to determine the rankings/standings for MLS Teams. While the ratings seem off (Currently the LA Galaxy are at the top, but the standings have not been updated with this weekend's games), you can mine some interesting nuggets.

The Timbers average 140 possessions per game and 3.26 passes per possession. Offensively the Timbers take 10.17 shots per game and 3.66 shots on goal per game. Defensively they only allow 8.42 shots per game and 2.9 shots on goal per game. This places them in the top 10 of both categories and sheds some light on why the team has been earning points at a higher clip than last year.

Points Per Game Standings

This is probably the easiest way to change the standings to reflect the different amounts of games played. You just reorder the standings based on the points per game. With that in mind here are the standings based on PPG:

1 FC Dallas 28 14 2
2 Portland Timbers 22 13 1.69
3 Real Salt Lake 24 15 1.6
4 LA Galaxy 20 13 1.54
5 Seattle Sounders FC 18 12 1.5
6 Colorado Rapids 20 14 1.43
7 Vancouver Whitecaps 16 12 1.33
8 San Jose Earthquakes 15 15 1
9 Chivas USA 11 13 0.85

As you can see it moves both the Timbers and the Seattle Sounders. This is due to the higher PPG but lower games played than the teams just above them in the standings.

Win at Home Adjusted Table

This table is not too complex but it is a different way of looking at the standings. Essentially you take the adage "Win at home, draw on the road" and apply it to the standings. What this means is that a win at home is expected and this counts for 0 points, while a loss on the road is also expected and counts for 0 points. This means that the opposite of those results are where you get your differentiation. A win on the road nets you 3 points and a draw nets you 1 point but a loss at home gets you -3 points and a draw nets you -1 points.

Using the ESPNFC standings (which supply home and road records) you can calculate the adjusted points:

TEAM Home Win Home D Home L Home Points Road W Road D Road L Away Points Total Pts
FC Dallas
7 1 0 -2 1 3 2 6 4
Real Salt Lake
4 2 1 -7 3 1 4 10 3
Portland Timbers
3 2 1 -7 2 5 0 11 4
Los Angeles
4 1 1 -5 2 1 4 7 2
3 2 2 -10 2 3 2 9 -1
Seattle Sounders FC
2 2 1 -7 3 1 3 10 3
Vancouver Whitecaps
3 3 0 -6 1 1 4 4 -2
San Jose
3 4 1 -11 0 2 5 2 -9
Chivas USA
2 1 4 -14 1 1 4 4 -10

Looking at the standings this way you can see that Colorado is currently placed above where they should be and Seattle is below. Focusing on Portland and you can see their road record has been a surprise but has also been the main reason they are so high in the standings. IF they can improve on their home record and not drop points they will solidify their first ever playoff spot.

What does these all mean?

Nothing. They are fun to look at because they can show different views but the season is past the 1/3 mark (127 out of 323 total games). Which means there still 200 more games to go. Any number of things can happen like injuries, international call-ups, transfers and coaching changes. Any of which can change the direction of a team and thus their place in the standings.

Finally, be sure to check out pdxskeptic's weekly MLS ranking table.

If you have any other interesting ways to look at the standings please feel free to share them.