State of the MLS Run In: 13 Weeks to Go

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The first installment of our playoff (and other) odds for the 2013 season. The playoff race this year will be much closer than last year's, especially in the wild West.

It's already time to start the countdown clock, friends. It may seem a little early, but keep in mind that when I ran the probabilities with 11 weeks to go last season, the sim called the playoff teams. The most likely teams to make the playoffs at that point were the ones who made it. Other than the Columbus Crew, who made a good run to only miss the postseason by 1 point, no non-playoff team had more than a 10% chance to make it. With 11 weeks to go! This season promises to be much more tense, but it's still not too early to check out the odds.

For those unfamiliar, I run a Monte Carlo simulation of the season by giving each a team a weighted random chance to win each remaining match. The weights are based on the team's recent performance and take into account the opponent's quality and home field advantage.

A fuller explanation of the methodology is available here.

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, earning a CCL bid, and winning the MLS Cup based on simulating the remainder of the season 10,000 times.

Avg Points Playoff % Top 3 % MLS Cup % Shield % CCL %
Portland W 56.3 95.7 82.1 17.2 25.7 70.5
Real Salt Lake W 56.0 95.0 78.8 16.3 21.8 66.5
Sporting KC E 54.5 92.7 67.9 12.0 12.1 45.2
Montreal E 53.3 84.9 56.0 5.5 10.1 0.0
New York E 53.1 87.0 55.8 8.0 6.9 32.8
Philadelphia E 52.6 83.1 48.6 8.0 5.6 29.6
Los Angeles W 52.6 83.3 50.4 7.1 5.7 27.4
New England E 51.7 77.4 42.3 9.9 4.6 28.9
Houston 49.8 61.6 27.0 3.5 2.2 14.3
Seattle W 49.4 58.5 25.0 3.0 2.2 12.6
Vancouver W 49.1 54.1 21.3 3.4 1.2 0.0
FC Dallas 49.1 54.7 21.3 2.3 1.1 9.7
Colorado 49.1 53.9 20.2 3.7 0.9 11.2
Chicago 43.0 11.3 2.2 0.2 0.0 26.4
San Jose 41.3 5.0 0.6 0.1 0.0 0.3
Columbus 38.7 2.1 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.2
Toronto FC 31.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Chivas USA 30.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
DC United 22.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 24.6
Avg Pts for Playoffs (W) 49.5
Avg Pts for Playoffs (E) 49.6

Note that the CCL% there is the odds of getting one of the four US spots in the competition, so the Canadian teams are automatically excluded. And you can also clearly see that the US Open Cup (and the CCL berth it comes with) is the only thing DC United has to play for at this point (and probably Chicago as well). It's also interesting to note that the number of points to get into the playoffs is pretty much the same in the East and West. I had thought the West would be much tougher, but after last week's results, and given that the West teams have to beat up on each other a bunch toward the end of the season, it looks like the Conferences are pretty equal.

You can also see the race for the final two spots in the West is going to be intense. Right now we're projecting Seattle, Vancouver, Dallas, and Colorado to finish within a single point of each other. A single dropped point somewhere along the way may mean missing out on the playoffs, a fact that adds extra import to the Sounders' match against Dallas this weekend.

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.

LA has the easiest schedule remaining, which explains a lot of why their playoff odds look so high compared to the other four clustered West teams even though they're close in the standings now. At the other end, Colorado and Vancouver have the hardest remaining schedules and FC Dallas is in the top half. That should give the Sounders a bit of an edge in the playoff push.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Los Angeles 18.015 12 1.501
Portland 18.943 13 1.457
New England 18.939 13 1.457
Houston 20.041 14 1.431
New York 17.032 12 1.419
Philadelphia 16.974 12 1.414
Seattle 20.874 15 1.392
Sporting KC 16.643 12 1.387
DC United 17.995 13 1.384
Toronto FC 17.758 13 1.366
Columbus 17.732 13 1.364
Chivas USA 17.728 13 1.364
FC Dallas 17.704 13 1.362
Chicago 18.841 14 1.346
Montreal 18.569 14 1.326
San Jose 15.807 12 1.317
Real Salt Lake 15.649 12 1.304
Vancouver 16.85 13 1.296
Colorado 14.081 11 1.280

Cascadia Cup Odds

I'm using a better implementation of the Cascadia Cup sim this season. Instead of using only Cascadia games as input (which is obviously a very small sample size) I'm using the teams' full season performance, which is a much better reflection of a team's quality.

Currently, despite Seattle's home field advantage this season, I have the Timbers as small favorites to retain the Cup, just based on their Supporters' Shield contending form in the league. The next Cup match is this weekend when the Timbers host the Caps. An away result by Vancouver would likely put Seattle in the lead again, but I'll just say that the Whitecaps' history in doing Seattle a favor in the Cup competition has been disappointing and leave it at that.

Odds
Portland 46.1%
Seattle 38.9%
Vancouver 15.0%
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