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State of the MLS Run In: Lots of Weeks to Go

The first, absurdly premature edition of SotRI. We look at the playoff, shield, CCL, and Cascadia Cup odds as we move past the halfway point of the season.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, let's do one of these.

If this is your first season on the site, you may not have seen one of these updates, in which I simulate the remainder of the season a few thousand times to provide postseason (and other award) probabilities. If you're familiar with Sports Club Stats you'll have the general idea, though I think I've improved on some weaknesses in that model (informed by more detailed stats data) and I add more MLS-specific info, like CCL odds.

Anyway, onto our first edition of the season:

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 (US) CCL bid, and winning the MLS Cup based on simulating the remainder of the season 10,000 times. A fuller explanation of the methodology is available here.

Avg Pts Playoff % Top 3 % MLS Cup % Shield % CCL %
Sporting KC E 59.2 99.9 98.8 18.6 28.4 68.6
Seattle W 59.0 99.3 93.0 13.0 30.7 70.5
Los Angeles W 58.2 99.1 91.4 20.1 24.5 64.5
DC United E 56.2 99.6 95.4 17.6 11.6 54.1
Real Salt Lake W 53.5 93.9 64.8 7.7 3.5 26.9
FC Dallas W 49.8 78.5 29.1 5.4 0.6 35.6
Toronto FC E 48.4 84.5 49.9 4.3 0.4 --
Vancouver W 46.0 46.4 10.0 2.0 0.1 --
New York E 45.4 68.7 22.8 3.5 0.1 9.3
Colorado 45.1 39.0 6.1 1.6 -- 4.4
Columbus E 44.4 58.3 15.3 2.2 -- 5.7
Portland 42.8 21.5 2.4 0.8 -- 2.0
San Jose 42.2 19.9 3.1 0.9 -- 2.3
Philadelphia 41.8 35.2 8.2 1.5 -- 27.8
New England 41.7 30.1 5.7 0.6 -- 2.1
Chicago 39.3 17.8 3.3 0.4 -- 26.0
Chivas USA 37.2 2.5 0.1 0.1 -- 0.1
Houston 36.3 5.8 0.5 -- -- 0.1
Montreal 27.9 0.1 -- -- -- --
Avg Pts for Playoffs (W) 47.6
Avg Pts for Playoffs (E) 44.6

In the inaugural edition there are mostly familiar names at the top. Seattle, Sporting, LA, and RSL are perennial contenders. The only newcomer to crash the party is DC United, and they've won the league four times, so it's not like this is unfamiliar ground for that franchise.

The Shield race is of particular interest to Sounders fans, as for the second year in a row Seattle has had a pretty big lead before stumbling to make a race of it. Right now, Seattle's still projected favorites by a nose over the Sporks, despite KC averaging fractionally more points in the simulated seasons. How can that be? Probably something like Seattle finishes ahead slightly more often, but when KC does finish ahead they do it by more points (and thus the higher average). Then there's LA and DC with an outside shot, and then we're into the realm of the very unlikely, so it's largely a 4-team race.

Seattle also tops the odds of being in next-next season's CCL, thanks to being the only team around the top of the table that's still in the Open Cup. And though Chicago still have a puncher's chance of making the postseason in the turbulent Eastern Conference, the Open Cup is likely their only chance for glory this season, much like DC last year.

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 teams at the top and the bottom are on the playoff edge, meaning the schedule could be a deciding factor for both Columbus — who are clinging to the last playoff spot in the East — and Colorado — who will have to survive a tough West schedule to avoid Vancouver or Portland or even San Jose (and note that the simulations predict that they'll fail at the hands of the Whitecaps). The Sounders have a pretty average schedule, but their main Shield rivals KC have the third easiest. In fact, the 5 easiest schedules are all in the Eastern Conference and easiest West schedule is the Galaxy's. Awesome.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Columbus 17.96 12 1.497
Philadelphia 17.864 12 1.489
Sporting KC 17.239 12 1.437
New England 17.222 12 1.435
Toronto FC 19.76 14 1.411
Los Angeles 21.154 15 1.41
Chicago 18.244 13 1.403
Real Salt Lake 16.76 12 1.397
New York 16.578 12 1.381
Seattle 19.217 14 1.373
Houston 17.811 13 1.37
Montreal 17.735 13 1.364
Vancouver 17.546 13 1.35
Portland 16.119 12 1.343
Chivas USA 17.46 13 1.343
FC Dallas 15.709 12 1.309
San Jose 19.257 15 1.284
DC United 16.649 13 1.281
Colorado 15.109 12 1.259

Cascadia Cup Odds

After squandering Cascadia Easy Mode last season with 4 home games, Seattle is now facing Cascadia Hard Mode with just 2 at home. Thanks to the Whitecaps' ongoing domination of the Timbers and the extra home match, they're pretty strongly favored to retain the Cup, which would continue the tradition from the USL days, when Vancouver would edge out Seattle for Cups and the Timbers would smile and wave and cut logs or whatever.

The next Cup match is near the end of August when Seattle visits Portland for a reprise of that crazy 4-4 match earlier in the season. A win there is probably required to take back the Cup, since after that Vancouver is involved in all three remaining Cascadia games and will be fighting to make the playoffs as well, so should be favored to pick up a few points.

Vancouver 67.7%
Seattle 21.9%
Portland 10.4%

Seattle's First Round Matchup

It's way, way early for this. But just for completeness, these are the likely first opponents for Seattle in their first playoff match, either in the wild card playoff or — more likely — the conference semifinal.

Real Salt Lake 32.5%
FC Dallas 23.4%
Vancouver 12.4%
Los Angeles 10.7%
Colorado 9.2%
San Jose 5.3%
Portland 5.3%
Chivas USA 0.5%

Vancouver or Dallas would be fun after a steady diet of the Galaxy and RSL over the years.

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