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The (Un)Importance of a Fast Start in MLS

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Neither the winners nor the losers of the Major League Soccer regular season appear in the first month.

These guys don't need a hot start.
These guys don't need a hot start.


Opening day of the 2015 season of Major League Soccer approaches rapidly, with (so far) no resolution to the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement. The just-opened primary transfer window lasts until mid-May. How much of a disadvantage would a team face that waits for the new CBA to finalize its competitive roster? An analysis of the last 4 MLS seasons (shown above) clearly demonstrates that competitive teams have a broad range of success in the early season. The linear trendline for all team performances (solid black) is a poor fit to the data and fairly flat (success in March is not strongly correlated with success after), while the trendline for playoff teams (dashed red) is a poor fit with a negative slope (remember this when your team wins "too often" in the early season). 12 out of 40 playoff squads (and 1 out of 4 Shield winners) have come from the bottom half of 1st-Five performances, picking up 6 points or fewer. 3 playoff teams have gone winless. When your chosen squad sits at 5 points out of 15 in mid-April, don't panic.

On a meta note to readers - in addition to my usual fare, I'll be posting short-form analytical notes like this one on a weekly basis this year, typically responding to features of the most recent game. If you see a feature of play you feel warrants analysis or visual representation, I encourage you to mention it to me in the game thread or tweet a comment in my direction.