Climbing the Ladder: All-time winners and losers in MLS

The Chicago Fire are off to a decent start to the season, with a win and a draw from their first two games. Most pundits predicted improvement for the Men in Red, who are looking for their first winning season since 2009. Not only would such a season be a boon for the team and its fans, it would also mean a lot on a personal level for a couple of their players.

Never Played For A Winning Team (*active)

Player Seasons Losing Even Teams
Mike Burns 8 7 1 NE, SJ, KC
Ted Chronopoulos 8 7 1 NE, NY
*Jacob Peterson 7 6 1 COL, TOR, SJ
*Dan Gargan 6 4 2 COL, TOR, CHI
Terry Cooke 5 3 2 COL
*Cory Gibbs 5 3 2 DAL, COL, NE, CHI
Cornell Glen 5 5 0 NY, CLB, LA, COL, SJ
Paul Keegan 5 4 1 NE
*Nick LaBrocca 5 4 1 COL, TOR, CHV
Giovanni Savarese 5 5 0 NY, NE, SJ
Daniel Torres 5 5 0 CLB, RSL, DAL

Of the nearly 350 MLS players who’ve played in at least five regular seasons prior to 2012, only 11 have gone their entire careers without experiencing a winning season (table at right). Four of those players are currently active, including two Fire teammates: Dan Gargan and Cory Gibbs. Both have twice played for teams that finished exactly at .500 with the same amount of wins and losses, including last year, but never a winning team.

The third active player is Chivas USA’s Nick LaBrocca, who like the other three also was a former Colorado Rapid in the Fernando Clavijo era. Former Revolution teammates Mike Burns and Ted Chronopoulos lead all time with eight teams.

The active player who has played for the most teams without a winning season, however, is Sporting Kansas City’s Jacob Peterson, though their 3-0 start suggests that he’s likely to break that duck. He’s played for seven teams in six years, including both San Jose and Toronto a year ago. That’s counting each yearly squad for each franchise as a “team.” So Peterson played for four Rapids teams, two in Toronto, and one in San Jose.

On the flip side, there are seven players who’ve never played for a team with a losing record (table at right).

Never Played For A Losing Team (*active)

Player Seasons Winning Even Teams
*Brian Carroll 8 8 0 DC, CLB, PHI
*Jeff Larentowicz 7 7 0 NE, COL
*Patrick Ianni 6 6 0 HOU, SEA
*Matt Pickens 6 4 2 CHI, COL
*Roger Levesque 5 5 0 SJ, SEA
Chris Rolfe 5 4 1 CHI
*Wells Thompson 5 5 0 NE, COL

All are active except Chris Rolfe, who’s also the only one not to win an MLS Cup. The leader is eight-for-eight Brian Carroll, who famously played for four consecutive Supporters' Shield winners from 2006-09.

It’s important to note, though, these statistics only include seasons where the player saw regular-season action. Carroll was a member of the the 2003 D.C. United team that finished one game under .500 in his rookie campaign, but he was only used in the US Open Cup by head coach Ray Hudson.

With the Philadelphia Union pointless after three games, Carroll’s status could be in danger, which would open the way for Jeff Larentowicz to overtake him. Both Patrick Ianni and Roger Levesque of the Seattle Sounders are also on the list. (This year, they can help their team match Chicago’s four consecutive winning seasons for an expansion team.)

Also notice that the current Colorado Rapids have three of the winningest players in the game on their roster: Matt Pickens, Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson.

Which veterans have played for the most winning and losing teams?

It definitely takes a bit of luck to play for a number of years without experiencing both highs and lows, so it’s no wonder that so few players make the above lists.

Played for Largest Percentage of Winning Teams (*active)

Player Seasons Winning Losing Even Winning Pct. Teams
Diego Gutiérrez 12 10 1 1 0.875 KC, CHI
*Pat Noonan 10 8 1 1 0.850 NE, CLB, COL, SEA
Jesse Marsch 14 11 2 1 0.821 DC, CHI, CHV
Eddie Robinson 11 9 2 0 0.818 SJ, HOU
Wade Barrett 10 8 2 0 0.800 SJ, HOU
*Brian Ching 10 8 2 0 0.800 LA, SJ, HOU
Nate Jaqua 10 8 2 0 0.800 CHI, LA, HOU, SEA
*Brian Mullan 10 8 2 0 0.800 LA, SJ, HOU, COL
*Matt Reis 14 11 3 0 0.786 LA, NE
Greg Vanney 11 8 2 1 0.773 LA, DAL, COL, DC

Even great players end up on a below-average team from time to time, and journeymen can sometimes end up in the opposite situation. Of the MLS veterans who’ve played for at least 10 yearly teams, who’s played for the most good and bad teams?

There are 85 current and former players who qualify. Ranking first all-time based on percentage (counting perfectly even .500 teams as half of a winning season and losing season) is Diego Gutiérrez, now working as Philadelphia’s sporting director, who only experienced one losing season out of 12 in multiple stints with Chicago and Kansas City. That was in 2002, where the Wizards finished 9-10-9.

The top active player is Pat Noonan, who’s been a part of some great teams in recent years, though he hasn’t been a fulltime starter since his New England days. This year, he seems on track to continue the pattern after joining the defending champions in LA.

The worst veteran track records, meanwhile, go to former defenders Eric Denton and Brian Dunseth (table at right). Both did get to experience winning the Supporters' Shield in their only winning seasons, Columbus 2004 and Miami 2001, respectively.

Played for Largest Percentage of Losing Teams (*active)

Player Seasons Winning Losing Even Winning Pct. Teams
Eric Denton 10 1 8 1 0.150 KC, CHI
Brian Dunseth 10 1 8 1 0.150 NE, MIA, CLB, DAL, RSL
Andy Williams 15 4 10 1 0.300 CLB, MIA, NE, NY, CHI, RSL
Chris Brown 10 3 7 0 0.300 KC, NE, SJ, RSL
Jeff Cunningham 16 4 10 2 0.313 CLB, COL, RSL, TOR, DAL

Interestingly enough, the list includes some of the most accomplished players in league history. All-time leading scorer Jeff Cunningham (.313 winning pct.) comes in at No. 5 on the list, while current RSL head coach Jason Kreis (.333) comes in at 6, and Brian McBride (.364) and Tony Meola (.364) are tied for No. 9 on the list.

Kreis and Andy Williams are perhaps the most intriguing on the list. Who would think now that the longtime friends would have suffered so long as players before finding so much success with Real Salt Lake?

The lowest ranking active players are Alan Gordon (.350), Ramiro Corrales (.357), and Edson Buddle (.364), who played for largely losing teams before he joined the LA Galaxy in 2007.