State of the MLS Run In: 9 Weeks to Go

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Landon Donovan #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy drinks from the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy in the locker room after defeating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the 2011 MLS Cup at The Home Depot Center on November 20, 2011 in Carson, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Previous Week

We've been pointing out for a couple weeks that it would take some real work for the roster of playoff teams to be shaken up from the 10 teams who've held the projected playoff spots for some time. Part of that work would be an extended run of bad play from the teams closest to the edge: the Vancouver Whitecaps in the West and DC United in the East. To the benefit of playoff race aficionados everywhere, they've delivered. The Whitecaps have lost 4 of their last 5 games and look completely lost after a seemingly unnecessary midseason roster overhaul. And United has only 2 wins in their last 7 to undo the work of an April and May that had them contending for a Supporters Shield.

The other end of the bargain is that the teams just out of playoff spots have to go on extended runs. In the East, Montreal has won 5 consecutive games and Columbus has only 1 loss in 7 to put the heat on DC. In the West, Chivas has faded, but FC Dallas has only lost 2 of their last 7 (both to the Galaxy).

It's a testament to how locked in the playoff spots were a few weeks ago that even after that perfect storm of results, the teams that were strongly favored then are still strongly favored. Only Columbus is outside the playoff spots with a more than 10% chance to sneak in. DC United is the weakest of the playoff teams, but we still project them with a 77% chance of making the playoffs. It helps that the contenders will be trying to knock each other out. Columbus faces Montreal next weekend in a game that could end playoff hopes for one or both of them. And FC Dallas faces Chivas twice in their last 7 games.

Further up the table, the Sounders have surged into MLS Cup favorite status. That may seem odd, given that San Jose still has a sizable point lead and therefore likely home field advantage. But the sim results are weighted for recent results, and Seattle has been on a tear. And they're a very good road team and are as equipped as any team to pick up road wins in the playoffs (though that's something they've struggled with in past seasons).

Much further down the table, Toronto has nosed ahead in the Wooded Spoon race after Portland picked up the win over Vancouver. The lowest projected point total among teams who haven't fired their coach this season is New England, though Jay Heaps seems safe in his first full season. Next up is Oscar Pareja in Colorado, who's had trouble fitting his system to Colorado's personnel but seems reluctant (or unable) to actually change the personnel.

Playoff & Trophy Probabilities

This is each team's up to date odds of making the playoffs, earning a top 3 spot, winning the Supporter's Shield, and winning the MLS Cup based on simulating the remainder of the season 10000 times.

A fuller explanation of the methodology is available here.

Avg Points Playoff % Change Top 3 % Supporters
Shield %
MLS Cup %
San Jose 62.6 100.0 -- 99.8 61.7 16.8
Kansas City 58.5 98.3 -1.1 83.2 15.9 13.2
Seattle 57.6 100.0 +0.3 92.9 10.8 17.1
New York 56.7 96.2 -0.6 72.8 5.2 8.7
Chicago 55.0 88.8 -5.3 52.1 2.6 7.3
Houston 54.8 92.2 -4.8 52.7 2.5 9.5
Real Salt Lake 53.1 99.6 +1.0 58.4 0.5 6.2
DC United 52.8 77.1 -6.9 28.8 0.6 4.5
Los Angeles 51.8 99.3 +6.1 44.2 0.2 12.2
Columbus 49.6 39.1 +17.6 10.0 0.1 2.4
Vancouver 46.8 84.5 +2.3 4.5 0.0 1.5
Montreal 46.2 7.9 +1.9 0.5 0.0 0.3
Chivas USA 40.0 9.0 -4.5 0.2 0.0 0.2
FC Dallas 39.5 6.4 -4.6 0.0 0.0 0.2
Philadelphia 38.9 0.4 -0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0
Colorado 36.1 1.0 -0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0
New England 34.1 0.0 -- 0.0 0.0 0.0
Portland 34.0 0.0 -- 0.0 0.0 0.0
Toronto FC 30.3 0.0 -- 0.0 0.0 0.0
Avg Pts for Playoffs (W) 46.6
Avg Pts for Playoffs (E) 51.6

Teams Eliminated

Teams that have been eliminated by three decreasingly stringent standards. Read here for more details.

Philadelphia bounces back into projected elimination this week. Colorado survives only via rounding. Getting close to our first Effective elimination, as Toronto now has a max of 45 points.

  • Mathematical Elimination (Unable to make the playoffs in any scenario)
    None
  • Effective Elimination (Unable to make 40 points even with perfect play)
    None
  • Projected Elimination (less than 1% chance of making the playoffs in simulation)
    Philadelphia (new), New England, Toronto FC, Portland

Remaining Strength of Schedule

Using the same simulation, we can also determine remaining schedule strength by seeing how a league average team would do with each team's remaining schedule. Teams at the top have schedules against which an average team got the most PPG, meaning we think they have the easiest remaining schedule.

The Galaxy still have the easiest schedule and will for at least a few weeks with 3 more consecutive home games. Montreal and Columbus both have very tough schedules remaining — the Impact with only two more home matches — which gives DC United some breathing room in the playoff hunt.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Los Angeles 10.94 7 1.563
Chicago 13.359 9 1.484
Vancouver 10.287 7 1.47
Seattle 12.995 9 1.444
Houston 11.517 8 1.44
Colorado 11.422 8 1.428
San Jose 11.335 8 1.417
Real Salt Lake 9.899 7 1.414
Toronto FC 11.189 8 1.399
Philadelphia 15.056 11 1.369
FC Dallas 8.153 6 1.359
New York 10.854 8 1.357
DC United 12.196 9 1.355
New England 12.111 9 1.346
Columbus 13.251 10 1.325
Kansas City 10.564 8 1.321
Portland 11.69 9 1.299
Chivas USA 13.869 11 1.261
Montreal 7.404 6 1.234

Seattle's First Round Opponent

RSL's tumble and the Galaxy's continued strong play has increased the chance that LA slips into the 3rd playoff spot to face a 2nd place Seattle, but the Lakers are still the favorites.

Matchup %
Real Salt Lake 47.6%
Los Angeles 35.7%
Vancouver 12.9%
Chivas USA 1.4%
San Jose 1.4%

Cascadia Cup Odds

This is the % chance for each of the Cascadia teams of winning the rivalry cup. Portland's home win over Vancouver puts them in a commandling lead for the Cup with only 4 Cascadia matches left. The Whitecaps are likely out of the running at this point. There can't be any serious question that Seattle is a much better team than Portland, but funny things happen in rivalry games. A draw and a win in the remaining two matches with the Timbers would tie that series and the result would come down to how each team does in its last game in Vancouver and potentially goal differential.

Odds
Portland 92.8%
Seattle 7.1%
Vancouver 0.1%

Champions League Odds

54.2%

I may move these to the main table eventually, but for now I'll just track Seattle's CCL odds separately. As the Sounders move closer to the top of the table, their odds of making Champions League improve significantly, since any doubling up in the usual slots (USOC, MLS Cup finalists, and Supporters Shield) gives a slot to the next team in the standings table. Of course, the surest way to get there at this point is just to make the MLS Cup final.

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