On Sunday, Sporting Kansas City will be chasing its most important three points (so far) of the season against the New York Red Bulls.
Not that I'm trying to add any pressure or anything to an already pressure-packed match being dubbed "The Battle for First in the East," but it could have a bit more impact than just the winner owning the title of "First Place in the East on August 26th."
A win for Kansas City would open up a five-point lead on its nearest rivals, set the pace for the entire Eastern Conference to chase and keep pressure on San Jose in the battle for the Supporters' Shield; a loss would drop KC down to second and closer to the dog-pile that is the Eastern Conference mid-table.
The fact that KC will travel two New York twice this Fall makes these three points even more important. (You gotta grab those home points.)
Now, I promise, this space won't be dedicated to points and chasing points for the next two months (while easy, it would get very stale). But, given the magnitude of this weekend, it's probably wise to slice and dice a few stats from the table once again. (Last week we discussed primarily how KC is chasing history.
Let's start today with something obvious: Because the MLS insists on playing an unbalanced schedule (understandable given the uneven number of teams, but still a bit unseemly), there isn't a very clear way to rank teams based on points. MLSsoccer.com hasthe handy Supporters' Table up
, but that doesn't tell the complete story. Or, more precisely, doesn't adjust for the right variables.
For instance: Columbus (currently out of the playoffs) has a whopping 11 games left to play, while Montreal (just out of the playoffs too) has seven. It's almost a certainty that the Crew will uses its four games in hand to close ground on not only Montreal, but those in playoff positions like D.C. United (no slouch with 10 games left) and Chicago (9).
The only way to really rank them accurately is by points per game. Here are the Top 13 teams ranked by points per game (games left).
1. San Jose:1.88 (9)
2. Kansas City:1.84 (9)
3. New York:1.76 (9)
4(t). D.C. United:1.67 (10)
4(t). Seattle:1.67 (10)
6(t). Houston:1.64 (9)
6(t). Chicago:1.64 (9)
8. Real Salt Lake:1.62 (8)
9. Columbus:1.43 (11)
10(t). Los Angeles:1.42 (8)
10(t). Vancouver:1.42 (8)
12. Montreal:1.33 (7)
13. Dallas:1.19 (7)
As you can see, the games in hand play a big trick on the standings. Four teams (D.C., Seattle, Houston and Chicago) jump over Salt Lake (who have more points) and Columbus rockets over Los Angeles and Vancouver (ditto).
One more note: Chivas USA are averaging 1.23 points per game with an astounding 12 matches left. I left them out because they a) haven't reached 30 points on the season yet and b) would lose every conceivable tie-breaker with their puny 15 goals scored this season.
While the PPG numbers are interesting on their own, the stat that really matters at the end of the season is "points." Since we can't rank for points now without eliminating games in hand, we can use PPG to predict the future. Or, at least, take a really educated guess at how a team could finish if they maintain the same form they've shown thus far.
If we take a team's current PPG and multiply it by its games remaining, we can calculate what I call "Points Per Form" (PPG x GL = PPF).
Basically, predicting how teams will finish the season based on how they've played through three quarters of the season.
Here, again, are the Top 13 teams ranked by "points per form" (with max points possible listed). This math doesn't produce nice even numbers, so I've rounded up.
1. San Jose:64 (74)
2. Kansas City:63 (73)
3. New York:60 (71)
4(t). D.C. United:57 (70)
4(t). Seattle:57 (70)
6(t). Houston:56 (68)
6(t). Chicago:56 (68)
8. Salt Lake:55 (66)
9(t). Columbus:49 (66)
9(t). Los Angeles:49 (61)
9(t). Vancouver:49 (61)
12. Montreal:45 (57)
13. Dallas:40 (53)
Not surprisingly, it follows the points per game chart nearly exactly. What this stat does though is provide a ceiling for each team; an end point that simple PPG figures just can't provide.
It also gives is a slightly clearer picture of how close things are going to be in the Eastern Conference.
If every team finishes on form (which isn't possible, as we'll discuss in the next section), the top five teams in the East (KC, New York, D.C., Houston, Chicago) would finish within 7 points of each other.
A losing streak of any kind could shake up things drastically. Talk about absolutely no margin of error.
The final place on the table will be integral to the playoffs.
According to the changes to the playoff structure this season: The teams who finish 4th and 5th in each conference will play a single-elimination match with the winner playing the conference champion in a two-leg aggregate series. The 2nd and 3rd place teams will face off in the other conference semifinal. The higher-placed teams will host the important second leg of the aggregate series.
The winner of the Supporter's Shield (for best overall record in the league) will host the MLS Cup.
One of the main reasons that each team finishing with the maximum "PPF" is not possible in the East is that the top seven teams battling for a playoff spot will play each other multiple times.
Sporting Kansas City gets the worst of it. Over its last 9 matches, Kansas City has seven games against teams in playoff contention (four of those are on the road). That's 21 points -- 9 against New York alone and 3 against Houston, Montreal, Chicago and Columbus.
New York and D.C. United each face six playoff teams (18 possible points); Columbus and Montreal have five such games (15 possible points); and Houston and D.C. United have it best off with just four such games (12 possible points).
This is the part of this exercise where the "six-pointer" cliche comes in. IN a "six-pointer," the winning team gains the pointsand
space in the standings.
Say Kansas City wins this weekend against New York. Not only would it bump them to 49 points on the season (and a five-point lead on New York), it would boost KC's points per game up to 1.88 and increase its possible points on form to 64. Meanwhile, it would drop New York's PPG to 1.69 and its possible points on form to 58.
Now multiply that effect timessix
more matches the next two months. And then do it for every single team involved.
It gets pretty crazy pretty fast.
So, yeah, this is a big game on Sunday. It's also the first of many to come. Buckle up.