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Sounder Data: 300 games

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As the Sounders go into their 300th MLS match, we take a look at our record in the first 299.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dearest Sounders community,

I know. We’re all reeling from Wednesday’s brutal smack-down in Guadalajara. Our boys traveled to meet Chivas short handed and lost terribly. Some see it as a sign of serious cracks in our foundation. Some see it as merely a sign that our mostly-B-squad can’t beat Chivas’ mostly-A-squad in Mexico. Regardless of your take, we all agree it was painful to watch. I know we’re not over it, but for a moment of respite from the anguish, I remind you that the Rave Green return to regular season play on Sunday.

Not only that, but this Sunday marks major milestone in the history of the club. When the Sounders take the field this weekend, it will be their 300th regular season match in MLS!

It’s a big deal. We’re no longer the young upstarts, shaking up the league by defying low expectations. We’re seasoned fans supporting a storied club that the league recognizes as a perennial favorite. We’re not among the old hats of MLS by any means, but 300 games once felt like a long way off, and surely still does to many of the teams we will play.

So I thought I would commemorate the occasion the only way I know how: with some interesting graphs. Welcome back to Sounder Data, the recurring series where I use data, statistics and visualizations to explore the past and present of MLS and the Seattle Sounders.

I decided that perhaps it’s now time to look back at the 299 games that were. To celebrate our accomplishments in MLS play, and see how we’ve compared to other teams around the league.

So I pulled together the data on every regular season game since the start of MLS, and computed each team’s cumulative points per game over time. You’ll be pleased to know that the good guys came out on top:

That’s right, the Seattle Sounders have the best all-time regular season record in MLS. Over 299 games, we have 137 wins, 71 draws and 91 losses, good for 1.61 points per game. LA Galaxy are the only other team that even comes close to matching our record with a PPG of 1.57 in 698 games. Atlanta United are also up there (also 1.61 PPG), but they’ve only played 36 games so far, so it’s kind of a different story (I actually excluded the first 36 games for each team in the figures because they’re too erratic).

Here’s the full table:

PPG Table

Team Cumulative Points per Game Games Played Wins Ties Losses
Team Cumulative Points per Game Games Played Wins Ties Losses
Seattle Sounders 1.61 299 137 71 91
Atlanta United 1.61 36 16 10 10
LA Galaxy 1.57 698 316 148 234
NYCFC 1.48 104 43 25 36
Miami 1.46 122 56 10 56
FC Dallas 1.45 697 289 142 266
Columbus 1.44 698 287 142 269
Chicago 1.44 634 253 152 229
Sporting KC 1.43 699 283 153 263
DC United 1.41 699 284 135 280
NY Red Bulls 1.41 697 281 142 274
Houston 1.4 393 144 120 129
San Jose 1.38 636 244 146 246
Portland 1.38 240 87 71 82
Real Salt Lake 1.36 424 156 109 159
Tampa Bay Mutiny 1.36 187 83 6 98
New England 1.33 700 264 139 297
Vancouver 1.33 240 85 64 91
Colorado 1.31 697 257 144 296
Montreal 1.23 206 69 47 90
Philadelphia 1.22 269 84 75 110
Toronto FC 1.2 359 111 98 150
Orlando 1.2 104 31 32 41
Chivas USA 1.11 320 92 79 149
Minnesota United 1.08 36 11 6 19

In addition to celebrating our team’s successes, the table and figures above may also put our losses in perspective, as they tell the story of triumphs and struggles of other teams around the league. In the early days of MLS, there were a few dominant teams with really high PPG, but then again MLS didn’t allow ties until the 2000 season, and used sudden-death extra time to break ties until 2004. Regardless, LA, Chicago and DC dominated the early MLS for years, with all the other teams roughly even with each other, and some starting off very poorly.

Moving into the modern era, expansion teams appear on the graphs with varying success. Houston held the top position for a season or so around 2009, while RSL, Chivas (the other Chivas) and Toronto were truly horrible for a long time. Toronto, as dominant as they have been for two seasons, are only now recovering from their tragic 5-year introduction to the league as they catch up to the pack. The Sounders however burst onto the scene and had established themselves as leaders by the end of the 2010 season. The 2011 season was more of the same, holding a rate of over 1.7 PPG for years. The Sounders have held the top spot ever since, with the exception of a few weeks last year when the Galaxy briefly led the race again. Also notable has been the rapid ascension of NYCFC, who broke into the top five in 2017 (excluding teams with fewer than 36 games under their belts). Here’s a graph of the top five teams ranked by where they were when they ended (in the case of Miami) or are now:

Another way to look at this is by game number. Comparing the 2017 Sounders to the 2017 Galaxy isn’t exactly fair because they’ve played so many more games. It’s certainly harder to keep up high PPG for three decades than it is for one. Plus, the early days of any team will be more volatile because every game has stronger influence over the total. I should say again though that the pre-2000 seasons of MLS weren’t comparable to the modern era because there weren’t any draws, so it was easier for an above-average team to rack up points back then than it is now. Nevertheless, the graphs below show the comparisons across every team’s first 299 games, regardless of when they entered the league:

Again, we’re doing quite well for ourselves. But this time the Galaxy do have us beat. By the kickoff of their 300th game, LA had averaged 1.69 PPG; better than our 1.61. As you can see in the graphs, there isn’t another team in the West that comes close, and we’ve just edged out the first 299 games of the Chicago Fire (who accumulated 1.58 PPG, but also had the benefit of many seasons with no ties). I repeat though, it’s not apples-to-apples give changes in league rules.

So what does this mean? A pessimist could look at these figures and think that we’ve peaked. There is a noticeable decline in PPG since late-2015. On the other hand, our only MLS Cup visits have come since then, and the league has certainly gotten better. An optimist (such as myself) looks at these graphs and sees something to be proud of. We’re supporters of a team that has defined a very high bar in this league. We’re supporters of a team that has consistently performed above the pack. We’re supporters of the Sounders.

This may not make you feel better about Wednesday’s loss. It may not give you more hope for Sunday’s away game either. But as we approach our 300th regular season match, my hope is that it reminds you of our pride. My hope is that it leaves you excited for the next 300.