Climbing the Ladder: Can TFC really make the playoffs?

Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter bravely claimed Tuesday that his team is going to make the MLS Cup Playoffs, despite the lack of any points six games into the season. Just how likely are their chances?

Last year, it took 46 points to make the postseason, and that seems like a good benchmark this year as well. Though there’s an additional team in the league, that’s offset by the fact that they’ll only have to beat out their same-conference opponents to make it under the current system, and they do play in the weaker East.

How Teams Have Finished After Six Games
(shootouts count as draws)
Points Through SIx 1.35 PPG Playoffs
11-18 89.7% 94.9%
7-10 50.5% 65.3%
0-6 25.9% 46.6%

It’s hard to look at MLS history for a comparison, since the percentage of teams in the playoffs has decreased from the early years, and the number of games played has varied as well. Forty-six points over 34 games is equal to 1.35 points per game, so that’s a good benchmark to use. That’s also right around an average MLS team’s PPG: 101 teams have finished at or above 1.35, while 97 have finished below.

It’s been quite a struggle historically for teams in Toronto’s position after six games. There aren’t enough pointless teams to really compare, so let’s look at any team with six points or fewer after six games played (table at right). In that category, out of 58 teams, only 15 (25.9 percent) were able to make that 1.35 PPG benchmark when the season ended. However, that did include D.C. United’s championship teams of 1996 and 2004. Montreal, New England and Portland would also be included in this category for the current season.

For comparison, teams with 7-10 points after six games reached 1.35 PPG on 50.5 percent of occasions, while teams with 11 or more points after six games should feel very good about their chances (such as Sporting KC, San Jose and Real Salt Lake this season). Nearly 90 percent finished above average, as only 4 of 39 teams didn’t. They are 2003 Columbus, 2006 Kansas City, 2007 Kansas City and 2008 New York.  Two of those four ended up in the postseason, so the playoff percentage is even higher.

Though it’s quite unlikely for Toronto to come back, it’s not unheard of. Columbus won the Supporters’ Shield in 2009 despite not winning until their eighth game. However, that Crew team had just won an MLS Cup, and this year’s Toronto team has already played four of six games at home. So it’s going to take something very special.

2. Do Kansas City usually start strong and fade?

PPG in First Eight Games vs. Rest of Season (through 2011, shootouts count as draws)

Team First 8 Rest of Season Change
Seattle 1.46 1.76 0.30
D.C. United 1.23 1.49 0.27
Houston 1.40 1.54 0.14
Chicago 1.43 1.54 0.11
Vancouver 0.75 0.85 0.10
San Jose 1.29 1.36 0.07
Sporting KC 1.31 1.36 0,05
FC Dallas 1.38 1.41 0.03
Colorado 1.33 1.33 0.00
Real Salt Lake 1.27 1.26 -0.01
LA Galaxy 1.63 1.57 -0.06
Chivas USA 1.27 1.20 -0.07
New England 1.35 1.26 -0.09
Philadelphia 1.31 1.21 -0.10
Columbus 1.51 1.40 -0.11
New York 1.41 1.25 -0.16
Toronto 1.25 1.03 -0.22

Sporting KC are off to another strong start with 21 points in eight games, and last year’s road trip aside, they’ve had a reputation in recent years for playing well early in the calendar.

As mentioned above, their 2006 and 2007 teams both started extremely well and then faded later on.

But as it turns out, those two years don’t make a pattern. In fact, through 2011 Kansas City’s all time PPG over the first eight games (1.31) is actually worse than how they’ve done in all other games (1.36).

Seattle are the team that has improved its performance the most after the first eight games (table at right), though they have only three years of data with which to work.

But behind them are D.C. United who, throughout their 16 seasons have, even in their best years, usually started slowly. They’ve averaged 1.23 PPG in their first eight games versus 1.49 afterwards.

Much to Aron Winter’s dismay, Toronto have usually done worse after the early games. New York are the MLS original team that’s decreased the most after the first eight games, followed by Columbus.

3. RSL’s winless streak in Dallas on the line

When Real Salt Lake take on FC Dallas in Frisco on Wednesday, they’ll do so having never won an away game against the home team.

The streak is at nine regular season games and counting, and that doesn’t include other competitions, or it would be even longer. They haven’t had any luck in Houston either, winless in eight

Longest Current Home Unbeaten Streaks
vs. One Opponent

Matchup Games Record Start 2012
NE vs. NY 14 10-0-4 2002 July 8, Sept. 22
SJ vs. KC 13 8-0-5 2001 none
KC vs. COL 11 7-0-4 2003 none
COL vs. NE 10 6-0-4 2003 none
DAL vs. RSL 9 8-0-1 2005 April 25
CHI vs. NY 9 5-0-4 2005 June 17
HOU vs. CHV 9 7-0-2 2006 none

games at the Dynamo, and it all adds up to a remarkable total of two points in 17 games in Texas (0-15-2).

 

If RSL fail to win on Wednesday, the streak will reach double digits, matching only four other current teams who also have endured long winless streaks playing away to another team (at right).

The list is currently led by New York’s 14-game tour of frustration at their old playoff nemesis, the New England Revolution. That matchup will occur twice in 2012 due to the unbalanced schedule, while the three other double-digit matchups won’t happen at all this year.

What’s interesting about the Dallas vs. RSL streak is not just the length, it’s also how one-sided most of the games have been. RSL have only the single point to show for their efforts, as they’ve led for just 21 minutes in those nine games.

That’s a total of 2.6 percent of the 810 minutes played. Dallas, meanwhile, have led 53.1 percent of the time, the most of of the rivalries this list.