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State of the MLS Run In: 4 Weeks to Go

As the regular season winds down I'm going to be posting a weekly summary of the some of the data and predictions we're generating, which should give you some context going into each week of games.

Previous Week

This week saw the LA Galaxy continue to pull away from the pack at the top of the table. A little further down FC Dallas continued their September swoon and are now firmly stuck in the wild card positions behind the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, who look to be competing to see who gets the home second leg of the Conference Semifinal and — probably more importantly — a CONCACAF Champions League berth if the Galaxy make the final (and the Sounders haven't already earned one via the US Open Cup).

At the bottom of the playoff rankings the Portland Timbers — after rising steadily over the last month — had about as bad a week as could be assembled. They lost a match to their closest playoff rivals — the New York Red Bulls — and the other competitors for the final playoff spots — DC United and the Houston Dynamo — earned wins against some of their toughest competition of the season. That adds up to a huge tumble in their playoff odds from around 50/50 to just over 12%.

Speaking of Houston, much is being made over their sudden appearance at the top of the Eastern Conference, but with every other team in the running having at least a game in hand on them and a tough finale against the Galaxy, we still show them as having some work to do to ensure they make the playoffs at all. DC United has had a whipsaw couple of weeks after looking punchless in an away shutout at Seattle, earning a disappointing home draw to Chivas, and then coming back to unload on Real Salt Lake (thanks mostly to Dwayne de Rosario). Which added up to their playoff odds being pretty much what they were last week.

The competition for the Supporters Shield is still a race, but barely. We're projecting LA to finish about 7 points ahead of Seattle, and to make that up there'd have to be a perfect storm of the Galaxy going into a losing slide and Seattle winning out.

Playoff & Trophy Probabilities

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

Avg Pos Avg Points Playoff % Change Supporters
Shield %
MLS Cup %
Los Angeles 1.06 67.49 100.0 -- 95.00 28.92
Seattle 2.27 60.57 100.0 -- 3.37 14.72
Real Salt Lake 2.71 60.57 100.0 -- 1.63 10.83
FC Dallas 4.78 51.24 100.0 -- 0.00 4.28
Kansas City 7.17 47.01 93.34 -2.27 0.0 8.76
DC United 7.25 47.35 87.41 -0.45 0.00 8.69
Philadelphia 7.53 46.68 87.25 +3.09 0.00 7.73
Colorado 7.81 46.55 90.17 -2.90 0.00 3.11
Houston 8.12 46.30 88.11 +33.83 0.0 4.47
Columbus 8.89 45.60 86.36 -12.82 0.00 4.10
New York 9.39 44.25 62.41 -6.89 0.0 3.92
Portland 12.07 41.36 12.60 -30.82 0.0 0.13
Chicago 13.25 38.97 3.75 +1.46 0.0 0.25
Chivas USA 13.33 38.69 2.10 -0.41 0.0 0.08
San Jose 14.99 35.96 0.16 -0.42 0.0 0.01
Toronto FC 16.07 34.16 0.0 -0.02 0.0 0.0
New England 16.54 32.40 0.0 -- 0.0 0.0
Vancouver 17.76 28.44 0.0 -- 0.0 0.0
Avg Pts for Playoffs 44.00

Teams Eliminated

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

With the Sounders' 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend they not only clinched the Cascadia Cup, they also officially eliminated the first team from the MLS playoffs. We already knew the 'Caps were out for some time (which is what our 'projected elimination' standard tries to measure), but they became the first teams to become both effectively and mathematically eliminated. Also, both New England and Toronto become effectively eliminated, since they now can't reach 40 points.

  • Mathematical Elimination (Unable to make the playoffs in any scenario)
    Vancouver (new)
  • Effective Elimination (Unable to make 40 points even with perfect play)
    Toronto (new), New England (new), Vancouver (new)
  • Projected Elimination (less than 1% chance of making the playoffs in simulation)
    San Jose, New England, Toronto FC, Vancouver

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.

Most of the easier schedules remaining belong to teams outside the playoff race, but both Colorado and DC United slip in with top 5 schedules, which should bolster their playoff runs. Columbus has three away games in their last four and after leading the East for so long they now may be fighting New York for the final Wild Card spot. Their consolation is that New York and Portland both have difficult schedules remaining as well.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Vancouver 7.818 5 1.564
New England 6.174 4 1.543
Toronto FC 4.617 3 1.539
Colorado 4.55 3 1.517
DC United 8.799 6 1.467
Seattle 5.834 4 1.458
Kansas City 5.576 4 1.394
San Jose 5.567 4 1.392
Houston 4.12 3 1.373
Real Salt Lake 6.793 5 1.359
FC Dallas 5.264 4 1.316
Philadelphia 6.559 5 1.312
Los Angeles 5.178 4 1.294
New York 5.103 4 1.276
Chivas USA 3.757 3 1.252
Portland 5.003 4 1.251
Chicago 6.22 5 1.244
Columbus 4.697 4 1.174

Seattle's First Round Opponent

This is the likelihood of each team being the first playoff opponent for Seattle (either in the preliminary round or — more likely — in the Conference Semifinals).

Real Salt Lake being the Sounders' first round opponent is now all but assured. FC Dallas has dropped down and Los Angeles has pulled away leaving the #2 and #3 seeds to be fought over.

Matchup %
Real Salt Lake 92.81%
FC Dallas 2.13%

Cascadia Cup Odds

Seattle has clinched the Cascadia Cup in the penultimate match, leaving the Timbers and Whitecaps to fight for pride (oh, and Portland's playoff lives) in the final match in the BC Place opener this weekend.

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