Commentary: Handicapping the Western Conference playoff race with three months to go
With the AT&T MLS All-Star game squarely in the past, it’s time to focus on the important stuff: Which 10 clubs will make up the 2014 playoff field?
I've crunched the numbers and come up with a method for predicting the playoff field in each conference. Today, I'll take a look at the West, where we have three teams out in front and the rest firmly in striking range of a playoff spot. Yesterday, I put the less gruesome East to the test.
The methodology behind this handicapping exercise is based on MLS history and each club's remaining schedule this season. Specifically, I studied the fates of the teams who've either successfully or unsuccesfull navigated the current playoff format since the 2011 season, the strength of each team's remaining opponents and their current league form. The playoff odds for each team are simply my approximation of all the factors considered – with the odds adding up to 500 percent, or 100 percent for the five teams who will eventually earn a postseason place.
The strength of schedule metric provides the cumulative points-per-game average (provided in parentheses) of the remaining opponents for each team. The worse the rank, the easier the schedule the rest of the way. Clubs are ordered by current table position, from worst to first.
Let me know what you think of my odds in the comment section below, and head here if you're interested in a more scientific approach.
6W-10L-5T; 23 points from 21 games
13 games remaining: 7 Home/6 Road; Strength of Schedule: 2nd (1.51 ppg)
After four straight wins, Chivas USA have now lost three in a row and moved back into last place in the very tough Western Conference. No West team has made the playoffs since 2011 with fewer than 27 points through 21 games and Chivas currently have 23. They also face the second-toughest schedule in the league, one that includes a four-game stretch that begins with a home game vs. Sporting Kansas City, then at both Toronto and Seattle, and finishes up with home game against Real Salt Lake. Barring Cubo Torres scoring two goals per game for the rest of the season, this isn't a playoff team.
6W-8L-5T; 23 points from 19 games
15 games remaining: 5 Home/10 Road; Strength of Schedule: 7th (1.39 ppg)
San Jose appear to be getting on track with a demolition of the Fire and a tidy 1-0 victory over the Western Conference-leading Sounders. They also have at least two games in hand on the four teams immediately ahead of them in the standings. The problem is that 10 of their final 15 games are on the road and they've only collected five points in their seven road games so far this season. Oh yeah, and Yannick Djalo is injured again. Even Matias Perez Garcia may not be enough to get the Quakes back in the postseason.
6W-7L-9T; 27 points from 22 games
12 games remaining: 6 Home/6 Road; Strength of Schedule: 10th (1.38 ppg)
First, the good news: The Timbers have the easiest remaining schedule of any Western Conference team. The bad news: They currently sit in seventh place and the backline is leaky. Caleb Porter’s team doesn't have a ton of ground to make up on fifth place (the Rapids are just three points ahead and have played the same amount of games), but even their wins have failed to impress recently and they got run over by the Galaxy on Saturday. They've got a chance, but it's going to be tight.
6W-4L-11T; 29 points in 21 games
13 games remaining: 7 Home/6 Road; Strength of Schedule: 3rd (1.47 ppg)
The Whitecaps have a game in hand on Colorado and Dallas and sit one and four points behind them, respectively. They have not won a game in a month, but Pedro Morales is rounding into form and the acquisition of Costa Rican Kendall Waston could shore up their central defense. They play the Rapids at BC Place on the last day of the season in what could be a match that decides each team’s fate.
8W-8L-6T; 30 points from 22 games
12 games remaining: 5 Home/7 Road; Strength of Schedule: 1st (1.55 ppg)
Let’s see, the Rapids have lost three of their last four, have the majority of their remaining games on the road and the toughest schedule of any team in MLS ahead of them. Included in those seven road games are trips to D.C., Seattle, and LA, who have combined to win 14 of their 20 home games since May. They currently sit in a playoff spot, but can they hold on to it? It's going to be tough.
9W-7L-6T; 33 points from 22 games
12 games remaining: 6 Home/6 Road; Strength of Schedule: 4th (1.47 ppg)
Oscar Pareja has done a marvelous job getting this team back on track after a midseason swoon that saw FC Dallas go winless for eight games. They are now unbeaten in their last seven, none of which included a start from Mauro Diaz, who lit up the league in March and April. Their battle with Colorado on Saturday could go a long way to securing their current place in the standings.
9W-4L-6T; 33 points from 19 games
15 games remaining: 8 Home/7 Road; Strength of Schedule: 8th (1.39 ppg)
The Galaxy have multiple games in hand on almost every team in the West, they have an easier schedule than everybody in the West except for Seattle and Portland and they just trounced both of those teams. Since 2011, no Western Conference team has failed to make the playoffs after earning 33 points through 19 games. Could LA really miss the playoffs in Landon Donovan's last season? Don't bet on it.
9W-4L-9T; 36 points from 22 games
12 games remaining: 6 Home/6 Road; Strength of Schedule: 6th (1.43 ppg)
It hasn't been pretty all the time for RSL this season, but they're still getting the job done. Saturday’s victory against Colorado, while down a man for half the game, was just another example. Expect Jeff Cassar’s team to make their seventh straight appearance in the playoffs.
12W-6L-2T; 38 points from 20 games
14 games remaining: 7 Home/7 Road; Strength of Schedule: 9th (1.38 ppg)
No Western Conference has missed the playoffs with 33 points through 20 games. The Sounders have 38. They did have a mini collapse last season, making the postseason despite losing four of their last six, but Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are playing at a much higher level this year, despite a recent dropoff. They are virtual lock for the postseason.