LAFC is having historically unlucky season.
According to expected goals calculated by American Soccer Analysis, the New England Revolution are having the luckiest season in history, and it's not even close.
A lot has been made of the fact that the Revs have had a lot of 1-goal wins this year. Sixteen of their 20 wins this year have been by the slimmest margin there is. That's impressive, though I'm not sure how impressive (I couldn't find 1-goal win statistics throughout the ages). What I am sure of is that the Revs have also been punching above their weight in expected goals. Through 29 games, their goal differential is 12.91 higher than expected. Big deal, I hear you saying. The Sounders are nearly 16 goals above their expected in one fewer game. Yes, the Sounders are getting pretty lucky this year. But the Revs are actually even more lucky. American Soccer Analysis also calculate expected points. The number of points they expect that a team would earn given their expected goals difference in each game.
The New England Revolution are currently earning .7 points more than expected per game. That is significantly higher than the next highest team in the ASA database. The 2014 Uniteds of DC, who earned .56 above their expected points per game, are second. In third place, surprisingly also from this year, are the extraordinarily lucky and yet not very good Timbers. The 2021 Sounders come in tied for 5th in this category (when you round to 2 decimal places) with the 2020 Timbers, Toronto's 2017 squad and the 2018 Sounders. So yeah, 3 of the top 7 teams in overperforming xPts are from 2021. Then we get to LAFC.
Chivas USA Reborn are having a historically bad year finishing. They currently rank worst in ASA's data set in actual goal differential vs. expected, at -24.65. Their xPoints this year is 51.65, while they have actually earned just 34 points in 28 games. That -.63 per game is the worst in the dataset, ahead of the 2018 'Quakes at -.52. Their xGD/game is 5th all time, and yet they're struggling to make the playoffs. 3 of the 4 teams above them in xGD won major trophies, including the 2019 Shield (LAFC) and the 2018 and 2014 MLS Cups (ATL, LAG). So, LAFC is a lot better than their record indicates.
Comparing the FC's of LA with the Logs down south is a particularly maddening comparison for any LAFC fans (or, like me, fans of any team competing against the Timbers). The Timbers' expected goal difference is nearly 11 goals to the bad. Somehow they have scraped 46 points while allowing nearly .4 more expected goals than their opponents. Meanwhile LAFC is averaging a +.77 expected goal differential per game, good for just 34 points through 28 games.
So what does this mean? Well, I used to think that teams that outperformed their xG were due to fall back to earth, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. Often outperforming xG is a function of confidence, and teams that have done this well all season seem to maintain their confidence for the most part. Then again, it is an indication that they're taking lower percentage shots, and no team outperforms their xG forever, so maybe? The other thing is that there are a lot of teams hitting the margins of this list hard. 3 in the top 7 in history in terms of xPts, plus the worst in history by the same measure may indicate that the model needs tweaking.
I'm also not sure what to say about the Revs. Are they getting really lucky right now? Most definitely, regardless of whether the model needs tweaking.
Are they doing anything that is not maintainable? That is unclear. If they close out the season earning exactly as many points as expected, they'll likely still win the Supporters' Shield. What is clear is that if the Revs win the Shield, they will have gotten some very fortunate rolls of the dice. If we catch them, the same could be said of us.