Climbing the Ladder: Changes in the lineup

It’s easy to look at a list of the transactions that have occurred lately, but how is change actually taking place on the field?

The average 2011 MLS team has totaled a bit more than two-thirds of minutes played from players who were on the team’s roster in last season; “2010” below refers to the team’s place in last year’s overall table, which closely aligns to this statistic.

Percentage of 2011 Mins. from Returning Players

    PCT 2010 Finish
1 Real Salt Lake 97.04% 2
2 Colorado 85.92% 7
3 San Jose 85.72% 8
4 FC Dallas 84.47% 4
5 Seattle 81.59% 6
6 LA 81.25% 1
7 Houston 70.91% 12
8 Sporting KC 67.10% 9
9 New York 66.82% 3
10 New England 61.45% 13
11 Philadelphia 59.23% 14
12 Columbus 57.01% 5
13 Chivas USA 50.27% 15
14 D.C. United 46.39% 16
15 Toronto 44.72% 10
16 Chicago 42.85% 10

It’s interesting to see Colorado and San Jose a bit higher than their 2010 ranks, while the LA Galaxy and New York are a bit lower. Perhaps the playoff results had some influence there?

Houston are just below the top percentages, but they’re still easily in the top half. They’re hoping that last year was an aberration, rather than making the drastic changes some of their fellow non-playoff qualifiers made in the offseason. The pundits seemed to mostly believe that a quick playoff return was in order, but it remains to be seen whether or not that’s the case.

RSL leads the pack by a large margin, as only the minutes from Arturo Alvarez and Artur Aghasyan prevent them from a perfect score. Meanwhile, the four teams at the bottom have all made coaching changes in the past year.

2. Which teams have used the most and least players in a single season?

With the 2011 season just past the halfway point, the average MLS team has already used nearly 24 different players in regular season games. Leading the pack are Vancouver (29) and Toronto (28), with DC and New York next at 26 apiece. With big-name new signings already announced for the Canadian franchises like Mustapha Jarju and Torsten Frings, those numbers will rise even higher.

On the other hand, Philadelphia have only used 19 players, followed by Colorado and Dallas at 21. As common sense would indicate, top teams are more likely to use fewer players. Supporters’ Shield winners have used on average 24.5 players, while wooden spoon winners (the worst team in the league) have used 27.1.

The San Jose Earthquakes used a record-low 19 players in 2002 before falling in the conference semifinals. The 2006 Houston Dynamo — who won the MLS Cup — used just 20 players, as did the 2007 New England Revolution, who fell to Houston in the MLS Cup final.

The 1996 New York/New Jersey MetroStars hold the record for most players, fielding 36 different faces during the league's inaugural year. That team famously used two players in their first starting lineup who would never play in the league again, Danny Barber and Ken Hesse. Overall, half of those 36 only played in MLS during 1996. Using such a high number of players back then was even more impressive, since the roster was capped at 20.

3. Which players have still played every single minute in 2011?

There are still 15 players left who have been on the field, all the time during the 2011 regular season. It’s a feat that’s been accomplished 42 times in 15 previous seasons, split equally among goalkeepers and field players.

Chivas USA - Heath Pearce

Columbus - William Hesmer, Chad Marshall

Colorado  - Jeff Larentowicz, Drew Moor, Matt Pickens

FC Dallas - Kevin Hartman

Houston - Tally Hall

LA - Todd Dunivant

Philadelphia - Sébastien Le Toux, Faryd Mondragón

Portland - Jack Jewsbury

Seattle - Kasey Keller

San Jose - Jon Busch

Toronto - Stefan Frei

Busch, Dunivant, Hartman, Hesmer and Moor have all done it before. Hartman already holds the league record for most consecutive minutes played, not missing any over the entire 2007-09 seasons with Kansas City. Given past seasons, it should be expected that only one-third or so will last the whole year.

It’s a tricky path to that goal with the multiple competitions and international call-ups that teams must deal with. Not to mention the looming specter of yellow-card suspensions, which have ended many defenders’ chances over the years. The MatchCenter preview pages here on MLSsoccer.com always list who is in yellow peril.

The all-time list includes two players who were traded in mid-season yet still played every single minute they were available for. In 2007, Chris Klein actually ended up playing 32 games in a 30-game season due to being traded to a Galaxy team with a couple games in hand, when they had a loaded second-half schedule in David Beckham’s first year.

Players To Play Every Minute of an MLS Season

1996 - Preki (KC), Steve Trittschuh (COL)

1997 - Mike Burns (NE)

1998 - None

1999 - Peter Vermes (COL)

2000 - Joseph Addo (TB), Nick Garcia (KC), Scott Garlick (TB), Vermes (KC)

2001 - Garlick (TB/COL), Tim Howard (NY), Steve Jolley (NY), Zach Thornton (CHI), Kerry Zavagnin (KC)

2002 - Nick Rimando (DC)

2003 - Tony Meola (KC)

2004 - Joe Cannon (COL), Jim Curtin (CHI), Richard Mulrooney (SJ), Steve Ralston (NE)

2005 - Todd Dunivant (LA), Simon Elliott (CLB), Pat Onstad (SJ), Bo Oshoniyi (KC), Michael Parkhurst (NE)

2006 - Onstad (HOU), Matt Reis (NE)

2007 - Kevin Hartman (KC), Chris Klein (RSL/LA), Reis (NE)

2008 - Jon Busch (CHI), Cannon (SJ), Jimmy Conrad (KC), Hartman (KC), Jay Heaps (NE), Rimando (RSL)

2009 - Darrius Barnes (NE), Busch (CHI), Hartman (KC), Onstad (HOU)

2010 - Will Hesmer (CLB), Drew Moor (COL), Tim Ream (NY)