MLS Cup: Who’s Scheduling Victory Saturday?

Remember me?

Steve Fenn quickly on the MLS Cup … and proving TSG was just taking a quick break.

When handicapping Saturday’s MLS Cup Final, some will refer to the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo’s only meeting this season. On May 26, Houston hosted the Galaxy and came away with a 2-1 victory. That result is barely relevant, though, because both sides have changed a great deal in the last six months. On that day, Bruce Arena didn’t play Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, or Josh Saunders. Likewise, if Oscar Boniek Garcia, Kofi Sarkodie, Mac Kandji & Ricardo Clark were wearing orange in May, it was only on account of bad fashion sense.

Similarly, these clubs’ overall records have little bearing on the championship match because in 2012; they’ve seldom been as healthy as they are right now. Why not narrow the focus to those matches played by the squad’s best players? After all, it’s no secret that the Galaxy improved when Omar Gonzalez’ returned from injury, and Houston became a better team after acquiring Oscar Boniek Garcia.

LA’s Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez did not play together often in the regular season, logging at least 225 minutes combined in only 8 matches. However, they were together the first 4 matches of the playoffs, until Landon sat out the 2nd leg in Seattle due to injury. The Dynamo’s trio of Boniek Garcia, Davis, and Will Bruin shared the field more often, logging 225+ for 14 regular season fixtures, and all 5 playoff matches.

Comparing 12 LA matches with 19 for Houston, outcomes obviously have to be recorded on a per match basis. This initially looks quite favorable to LA, with the Galaxy earning 1.83 points per game, and a 0.67 goal differential, while Houston only got 1.74 points per game and a 0.53 goal differential while fielding a relatively full strength squad. However, with samples like this, opponent strength has to be taken into account.

To adjust for strength of schedule, the opponents’ overall goal differential is added to individual matches’ GD. Then, to correct for home field advantage, the overall 2012 MLS home-away GD of .489 is subtracted from home matches and added to away matches.

When at full strength, the adjusted goal differentials of the Galaxy and Dynamo are remarkably similar, with LA coming in at .594, and Houston outscoring their opponents by .584. Statistically, this isn’t a significantly margin. The only edge comes from LA’s home field advantage, which is worth around half of a goal. The Galaxy are the favorites, but within a single match this Dynamo team with Boniek Garcia, Davis, and Bruin are quite capable of an upset.

19 responses to this post.

  1. I couldn’t find a natural place in the article for this, but I’d also like to note that anyone claiming that one conference was superior to the other in 2012 is blowing smoke. In 90 interconference matches, the East and the West both scored 109 goals. The East did have slightly more points per game (1.367 to 1.300), but that also means that the West had more multi-goal wins.


    • Steve, are a large portion of those goals for the West from the upper echelon of the conference? Just glancing quickly at the point totals, the East has more 50+ point teams (6 to 4), but that’s 6 out of 10 and 4 out of 9. The quick and most likely inaccurate assumption I’d come to is that the West has a few very good teams and the East has more parity – in the West, five teams have negative goal differentials (and two of those are 20+) and the East has four despite the extra team. The East has seven teams within 10 goals of a neutral goal differential, the West has three.


      • The teams with an overall positive goal differential in conference games are: Sporting KC
        LA Galaxy
        New England
        New York
        Real Salt Lake
        San Jose
        D.C. United

        So, 6 out of 9 were in the East, you’re right. At a team level, I’m not sure the data means a whole lot, though. A 9 or 10 game sample can have some flat out weird results, like NE being on the above list while Chicago was amongst the worst in interconference matches, and Houston averaging 2nd-best 1.78 PPG with a slightly negative goal differential.


  2. Posted by SamT on 2012/11/29 at 12:39 PM

    This is shaping up to be a classic MLS Cup final. Two great MLS franchises, with healthy squads and veteran leadership, under two coaches with longstanding career success, playing with very different tactical approaches… for all the marbles. Here’s to hoping for a flowing game and good refereeing.


  3. If my macro-level number crunching left you hungry for more specific insights, I would recommend checking out Devin Pleuler’s passing network visualizations in his MLS Central Winger columns, and Will Parchman’s tactical breakdowns on No Short Corners.
    Devin on LA:
    Devin on Houston:

    Will on LA:
    Will on Houston:


  4. “Likewise, if Oscar Boniek Garcia, Kofi Sarkodie, Mac Kandji & Ricardo Clark were wearing orange in May, it was only on account of bad fashion sense.”

    You mean on account of good fashion sense right?


  5. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/12/01 at 3:53 PM

    How on earth did Landon Donovan miss that? Glenn Murray would have put that away in his sleep.


    • Posted by crow on 2012/12/01 at 4:27 PM

      agreed but I guess Landon atoned for that with the PK but still a shocking miss. I thought Keane would just shoot himself but as soon as I saw him lift his head to pass I thought it was a sure goal.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/12/02 at 7:39 AM

        Penalty was dispatched with class. Galaxy played much better in second half. Offensive movement was very good. Although have to question Dynamo’s defensive shape and organization at times.


  6. Posted by crow on 2012/12/01 at 4:26 PM

    LOL Ricardo Clark- so poetic


  7. Posted by crow on 2012/12/01 at 4:33 PM

    Taylor Twellman: “What Brian Ching did for US Soccer…” Yeah, if you call holding back the development of soccer in the United States a decade an accomplishment.


  8. How exactly did Ching at all hold back the development of US soccer? That’s the first question. The second question is how on earth would he have done so for a decade? In other words since 2002? I hope you can defend a statement that outrageous.


  9. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/12/02 at 7:44 AM

    There was a tweet about home field advantage. I agree I don’t like how it is currently handled. I think they should pick a venue at the beginning of the season. Of course small chance that it might not be neutral. But I think that is better than say picking neutral venue after the conference games once the finalists are know.


    • I like the notion of having teams earn the right to host the MLS Cup but maybe having the higher seed of the two teams in the finals is a bit too far. I was all for this when it was announced last year, but I don’t really like the uncertainty surrounding the location so close to the final. On top of that it’s a little unconventional. Where else in the world is a Cup final not played on neutral ground. With the way we have it now it’s guaranteed that one team will have a homefield advantage. Maybe the better option is to award it to the Supporters Shield winner. A few other options just off the top of my head are the MLS Cup champion gets to host it the following year or the Open Cup Champion. With the Open Cup it would definitely add value to the tournament and encourage teams to actually compete for a change, but still the Supporters Shield winner is the most logical. Doing any one of these would provide much more time to plan the MLS Cup and adds another extra incentive to do well in other competitions MLS could creative and innovate the system used to determine the host of the MLS finals.


  10. Posted by dikranovich on 2012/12/02 at 1:25 PM

    seeing as this is the season of the goal scorer, anyone care to take a shot at who is the all time leader, in goals per 90 mins, played in MLS history? and it is not wondo, who comes in at .64 goals ever 90 minutes played. im not sure if you can have less then one goal in the plural, but whatever.


    • Posted by mbw on 2012/12/03 at 9:19 AM

      If you set the minutes-played minimum at 1500 (or about half a season’s work), the top five are Stern John, Danny Koevermans, Mamadou Diallo, Wondo, and one Charlie Davies.


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