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Crunchy Power Rankings: Week 15

Back for 2014, the rankings that mean slightly more than the other rankings of teams published every week, which isn't saying much.

Is the Sporks' multi-year reign at the top of the rankings about to come to an end?
Is the Sporks' multi-year reign at the top of the rankings about to come to an end?
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The World Cup break is the perfect opportunity to run our first Crunchy Power Rankings, which — if you just started reading the site this season — are explained here along with some work that I think validates the methodology. The tl;dr version is that we track stats which correlate to success over a large sample size and rank teams by those rather than wins or goals, on the hypothesis that wins and goals can swing wildly based on luck and other minute factors but that teams will over the long haul revert to the form that their fundamental stats indicate.

So this season. Here's our first rankings:

Team Duels Box Shots Off
Pass %
Recoveries Total
1 Sporting Kansas City -1.37 2.74 10.38 4.29 81
14th 2nd 1st 6th
2 LA Galaxy 3.19 3.26 5.3 0.38 79
4th 1st 2nd 8th
3 Seattle Sounders FC 4.18 1.55 2.41 5.88 77
3rd 4th 5th 3rd
4 Philadelphia Union -1.26 1.7 0.8 7.39 73
11th 3rd 10th 1st
5 Portland Timbers 5.95 -0.46 0.21 5.82 68
1st 13th 11th 4th
6 FC Dallas 5.83 0.14 -7.32 5.14 63
2nd 8th 18th 5th
7 Columbus Crew -0.37 0.93 4.76 0.19 60
9th 6th 3rd 10th
8 Houston Dynamo -1.66 0.12 -3.81 6.97 60
16th 9th 16th 2nd
9 New York Red Bulls 0.2 -0.07 1.43 0.35 55
8th 10th 7th 9th
10 Colorado Rapids -1.58 1.36 3.05 -5.25 51
15th 5th 4th 16th
11 D.C. United -2.99 -0.34 1.81 0.59 49
17th 11th 6th 7th
12 Toronto FC 0.43 0.73 -6.82 -2.65 46
7th 7th 17th 13th
13 Chicago Fire -1.35 -0.41 0.81 -6.12 39
13th 12th 8th 17th
14 San Jose Earthquakes 2.38 -1.57 -0.91 -4.34 39
6th 16th 13th 15th
15 Montreal Impact 2.86 -1.75 -9.8 -0.11 39
5th 17th 19th 11th
16 Vancouver Whitecaps -1.3 -1.14 -2.84 -2.73 37
12th 15th 15th 14th
17 New England Revolution -0.56 -0.73 0.8 -11.57 29
10th 14th 9th 19th
18 Real Salt Lake -6.6 -2.84 0.03 -2.01 26
18th 18th 12th 12th
19 Chivas USA -7.27 -3.31 -2.44 -7.18 13
19th 19th 14th 18th

The first things I notice here are the very familiar bookends. Sporting Kansas City has been atop the CPR since I first started publishing them — here's the inaugural edition from 2012 as proof — to the point that the rankings would look odd to me if they weren't at the top. Their full field pressure excels at winning the duels and recoveries that correlate so strongly with long term success. And their always solid defense doesn't allow many shots in the box, so they tend to lead in that stat as well. So it is perhaps validating that they won the title last season and only fell short of the double by a single point.

But they might be slipping a bit. That two point lead over LA is as close as they've come to losing the top spot in a long time. And their defense is a shambles due to injuries and callups. But if they can hold it together until Matt Besler (and Graham Zusi) get back from the World Cup, I'd expect them to round back into contention.

The other familiar bookend is Chivas, who've been reliably around the bottom for a couple of years for obvious dumpster-shaped reasons.

But beyond those keystones the rankings are little jumbled. The Galaxy's large deviation between real and CPR standings can be explained by their games in hand — they've played three fewer games than most of the teams in the Conference. But Philadelphia and Portland are also up there. The Union just fired their head coach and the Timbers are fighting just to get back into playoff contention before it's too late. But these rankings suggest that both teams have been hard done by. For the Union, their shots just haven't been going in. They have the 4th best xGR (expected goal ratio) in the Eastern Conference, which isn't amazing but is playoff-quality. But their actual goal ratio is much worse, suggesting that their shooters are just uncommonly bad or (I would argue) they've been unfortunate.

For the Timbers, the problem isn't bad luck shooting — their xGR is spot on their GR. Their problem is that all of the good midfield activity (particularly duels and recoveries) isn't turning into good shots. That's a more systemic problem that seems to have at least temporarily resolved itself with the addition of Adi. We'll see if that trend continues (and if he stays beyond the end of his loan).

The biggest outlier in the other direction is easily Real Salt Lake. The stats suggest they have no business being even remotely competitive and yet until they were knocked around by Seattle this month they were enjoying an undefeated season. I talked about it in more detail in that scouting report, but they were relying on multiple levels of luck. First, the finishing rates (especially from Plata) were just unsustainably high. And second, they were winning a huge number of 1-goal games, which is its own kind of lucky distribution of goals. And third, Nick Rimando is amazing (which isn't really luck, except in that they were lucky that two different MLS teams were willing to trade him to Salt Lake). He's almost certainly the best keeper in the league at taking goals away from opponents.

It's worth noting that they overperformed the CPR last season as well (though not by nearly as much), so it's possible that the methodology just doesn't account for their playing style. We'll see as the season goes on, but I suspect that the Laker team taking the field this season is a lot worse than the Kreis edition, even when the national teamers return and despite what their early season looked like. After all, last season FC Dallas came out of the gates looking unbeatable and ended up not even making the playoffs.

Of local interest, the Sounders are a solid third and are the only team with a top 5 ranking in all 4 tracked stats. Their perch at the top of the standings is no fluke, and with Clint Dempsey returning to the team after the World Cup you should expect them to get even better.

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