Will Chivas USA & The Montreal Impact Continue to Be MLS Darlings? Extrapolating the MLS Season

"Minda telling me when you guys are going to cool off?"

“Minda telling me when you guys are going to cool off?”

Steve Fenn sets the MLS table.

The first month of 2013 MLS has just finished, but many are already trumpeting clubs’ achievements or bemoaning the lack thereof. Chivas USA and Montreal Impact gear is flying off the shelves apparently (that’s not true, but you get the drift.)

Yet, here is an important fact as sure as the stacks of yellow cards sitting in Oswaldo Minda’s locker stall.

Everyone in MLS has either 29 or 30 matches left in their season in which form will surely shift.

Is there a way to extrapolate from the four or five game observations seen to date?


First, let’s illustrate which clubs offensive & defensive achievements have to this point been so far outside the norm as to be unsustainable. The graph on the left is each club’s goals and shots on goal per game for each season from 2006 through 2013, sized based on number of games played. The graph on the right is the same format, but with the sum of goals allowed and shots faced by each club’s keepers. (Note: Goalkeeping stats don’t quite tie out to total defensive stats, but the assumption is they are close and as a note, were the only historical resource available. The defensive graph’s axes are reversed so that in both graphs clubs would be striving for the top right.)

1st graphs

Click [here] to see an interactive version where you can filter down by club or year.

The best fit lines illuminate the overall average strike rate for the league since 2006. Almost every one of the 2006-2012 club-seasons amass in the middle of the graph and around that line, displaying the general range one can expect almost every club to land in by the end of a season.

Thirteen clubs offensively and twelve defensively fall outside of that mass thus far in 2013, and a regression to the mean should be the expectation.

In other words, trust not the truly as good or bad as their performances over the first four or five matches. Chivas USA’s offense is an extreme example, scoring 2.0 goals per game off only 4.0 shots on goal (SOG). Meanwhile, Portland’s problem is very similar to Chivas’ advantage so far, allowing 2.0 goals per game even though Donovan Ricketts has only faced 4.25 per 90 (Perfectly possible that Ricketts is the reason for the need for regression here.)

(Editor’s note: Look away Chicago Fire fans)

Chicago’s shots totals on both sides of the ball are shockingly similar to the horrible squad Chivas USA ran out last year, but so far they are allowing even more goals and scoring less themselves per game. Surely they’ll improve, but it’s unclear whether they will do so enough to avoid “that laughingstock team” that fodders the jokes come September and October.

Virtually every club is outside of the norm on offense, defense, or both thus far.

Again, filtering within the interactive version [here] is very useful for seeing larger trends in the data.


When evaluating early-season results in European leagues, Simon Gleave of Infostrada Sports came up with 2 brilliantly simple solutions which he wrote about on his excellent blog, Scoreboard Journalism. First, he compares all results to the same fixture in the previous season. For example if a team drew at Old Trafford in 2012, but lost when visting Manchester United in 2013, they would be -1 for that fixture and ManU would be +1.”

With an unbalanced MLS schedule the cycles to this analysis for the domestic league take more care. If you can recall previous columns on MLS strength of schedule, the calculations there came in handy and did the footwork for the crunching here.

In that post, expected goal differential per game (xGDPG) for each month was calculated. So here, the difference between the March figure in that post and the actual goal difference per game each team has had through their first 4-5 matches is taken, ΔGDPG.

Second, Gleave  simply uses the odds that casinos give for a win, loss, or draw in every match to calculate expected points per game (xPPG) for each team.

For example, if the casinos gave odds implying that they expect Team A will win a match 50% of the time, draw 30%, and lose 20%, then it follows that their expected points for that game are 3*0.50 + 1*0.30 = 1.80, and their opponents’ are 3*0.20 + 1*0.30 = 0.90.

Then, average the expected points for every match played so far to get xPPG. Subtract xPPG from actual PPG and another measure of each clubs’ over/under-performance is derived, ΔPPG. For further explanation, read Gleave’s post on the subject.


Click [here] to see an interactive version where you can filter down by conference.

The most interesting data points are certainly on the extremes, with Chicago clearly having fallen apart, and Seattle doing so to a lesser extent. Meanwhile Houston, Montreal, Chivas USA, Columbus, and Dallas all seem to have markedly improved since the 2012 regular season.

The Galaxy have also done well, but they had the easiest March fixtures in MLS, according to both the bookies and 2012 results. If you look back to the earlier graphs it showcases that their offense and defense have been far better than the norm. Part of their regression will likely come from simply facing better opponents.

Keep in mind that this study is descriptive, but with only the concept of regression to the mean holding much predictive value. The casinos will adjust their lines based on performance, so, in short,  betting for/against clubs based solely on extreme ΔPPG scores might land you in Antoine Walker Bank Account Land.

Most MLS clubs will probably look quite different in the fall than they do right now. However, between strike rates on both sides of the ball indicating unsustainability, and our expectation adjustments scoring for improvements, we at least have more to go off than the standard MLS table right now.

16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve Fenn @SoccerStatHunt on 2013/04/04 at 2:20 PM

    I’ll say it one more time: please check out the interactice versions of these visualizations. The first one in particular can give you a clear picture of a particular season or a club’s recent history with just some simple filtering. You can even download the source data using a link at the bottom of the interactive screen.
    Really, the few observations are just scratching the surface, especially on the first graph. Please share any other interpretations so we can talk them over.


    • Posted by Stephen M. on 2013/04/05 at 7:32 AM

      This was really great, Steve, thanks. I especially liked the use of Tableau for this – are you familiar with any Mac-compatible services that are similar?


      • People seem to ask Tableau to develop for OS X often. I’m not a Mac person, but this looked like a useful response: “If you are using a Macintosh computer that has an Intel processor, you can use virtualization software such as VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop to install Windows and run Tableau Desktop. Alternatively, you can use a built-in utility called BootCamp to install Windows and run the Tableau software.”
        Outside of that, I can only recommend that you search for Mac visualization tools until a good-enough one pops up.


  2. Sadly, we have a small sample size of the season so far, and FCD has yet to face a full strength RSL, LA or Seattle.

    I’m still not completely sold on Chivas. I just have a hard time believing that entirely average players (Agudelo and Kennedy being the exception) can smother every team every week, or even semi-regularly.

    And Chicago… man, that has got to be down to coaching, or voodoo. At this point the voodoo option makes more sense.


    • Posted by Steve Fenn @SoccerStatHunt on 2013/04/05 at 4:40 AM

      The first visualization illustrates my main concerns with Chivas USA. They’ve only taken league-average shots on goal, but their raw goals vs SOG ratio is Messi-level, and completely unsustainable. Meanwhile their defense is allowing way too many SOG with less goals allowed than would be expected.
      Chivas’ defense isn’t as dramatically off-kilter as the offense, but the likely negative regressions on both sides should put a dent in El Chelis’ ego.


      • Posted by dth on 2013/04/05 at 11:14 AM

        Still, even if they regress you’d have to imagine they’re better than their previous sorry versions.


        • Oh, agreed. They’re still getting of an average number of SOG, so they should have a respectable offense, just not as impressive as it appears now.
          Between the real improvements on offense and the point cushion they already have, I’d predict that they’ll be vying for a playoff spot, and I’ll hedge by saying they’ll be somewhere between 4th and 7th in the West at the end of the regular season..


      • “Meanwhile their defense is allowing way too many SOG with less goals allowed than would be expected.”

        I think we need a witty exponential abbreviation for Dan Kennedy to be worked into the chart somewhere 🙂


  3. Posted by dth on 2013/04/05 at 6:06 PM

    I’ve seen enough: Augusto solves a large percentage of United’s problems. Now just need to convince Olsen to bench Pajoy and play Pontius/Kitchen/Augusto/De Leon/DeRo/Rafael as his mid/attack.


    • Posted by dth on 2013/04/05 at 6:10 PM

      It is uncanny how Pajoy is never onside. NEVER. My god. Functional last year, but beyond awful this year.


  4. Posted by Crow on 2013/04/06 at 4:01 PM

    Im starting to sour on MacMath. I was a big fan and hes a good shot stopper but his positioning and decisions arent improving still (mainly referring to earlier games this season). A great finish by Oduro, but you cant leave that much room open near post.


    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2013/04/08 at 5:40 AM

      Every time I’ve seen him play live or TV he looks like he’s not ready for prime time. At a game live last season when he simply pulled his hand away and let the ball go into the top corner goal side. The 12 year olds in the crowd were too stunned to boo…He looked shaky early on when Mondro was out hurt and has never shown anything but nervy play IMO. But that fits in with the entire Union squad….wonder what Petie’s out destroying now…


  5. Chivas usa fan here. If Chivas do regress a LITTLE I’d be fine as long as we’re not bottom dwellers. A play off spot would help to


    • Well, offensively regression seems completely inevitable. What Chivas needs to do is improve their defense, but if that stays at its current level, the team will struggle. I don’t think they’ll be bottom-dwellers, though.
      Seems reasonable that Chelis should have them fighting for a playoff spot this year.


  6. Posted by Dave M on 2013/04/15 at 8:45 AM

    Dallas is pretty close to their regression line, meaning the success they’ve had is for real. If that’s so, they’ll be a prime team to watch this year — so far, they have 16 points out of a possible 18. Wow!


  7. […] off of last month’s attempt to quantify early season accomplishments it shows the writer was spot-on: The biggest MLS outliers […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: