Major League Soccer's overachieving and underachieving teams in 2020

Portland Timbers - Celebrate - against LA Galaxy

With Decision Day presented by AT&T in the rear-view mirror and the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs on the horizon, there’s no time like the present to take stock of the 2020 MLS season.

Which teams overachieved and underachieved based on expectations?

We take a look at expected goals (xG), expected goals against (xGA) and expected goal difference (xGD) to see how teams fared.

Top 3 teams G-xG

LAFC were the highest-scoring team in Major League Soccer, but that was expected with Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi leading a talented attacking group. But one goal behind them were the Portland Timbers, who surpassed their expected goals for the season by 12.7, significantly more than any team. They scored about 13 more goals than they would have been expected to based on their quality of chances.

  • Portland Timbers: 12.7
  • Colorado Rapids: 7.08
  • Orlando City SC: 6.66

Bottom 3 teams G-xG

With lengthy injuries to Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, Cristian Penilla and Luis Caicedo as well as Adam Buksa’s struggles, the New England Revolution underachieved the most against their expected goals. Impressively, though, the Revs are the only team among the top 3 to make the playoffs.

  • New England Revolution: -10.47
  • FC Cincinnati: -9.63
  • Chicago Fire FC: -8.14

Top 3 teams GA-xGA

This can perhaps be called the Darlington Nagbe factor. Or is it the Caleb Porter effect? Either way, Columbus Crew SC, who were just behind league-leaders Philadelphia with 21 goals conceded, did better than anyone in overachieving against expectations in goals against. Should Crew fans be worried about this turning against them in the playoffs?

  • Columbus Crew SC: -9.21
  • Minnesota United: -9.13
  • Philadelphia Union: -8.17

Bottom 3 teams GA-xGA

Considering the 28 goals conceded in an eight-match winless streak when the regular season restarted after the MLS is Back Tournament, it surely doesn’t come as a surprise the San Jose Earthquakes underperformed the most in goals against in 2020, though that number improved when Daniel Vega was replaced by JT Marcinkowski. Strangely, it’s a list that includes all three California teams.

  • San Jose Earthquakes: 13.93
  • LA Galaxy: 9.63
  • LAFC: 6.96

Top 3 teams xGD

We can see who had the best goal differential on the standings page (Philadelphia at +24 by the way), but who did the best based on expected goals, or chances created? That goes to the Seattle Sounders, who were also second in GD in the league at +21. They were far and away the best team in MLS when it comes to expected goals.

  • Seattle Sounders: 20.99
  • LAFC: 12.07
  • Philadelphia Union: 9.35

Top 3 teams GD-xGD

The Timbers also topped this category of teams that overachieved against goal differential. An impressive feat considering season-ending injuries to Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda. But this could be a bad sign if luck or certain performances change in the playoffs.

  • Portland Timbers: 18.98
  • Philadelphia Union: 14.65
  • Columbus Crew SC: 12.82

Bottom 3 team GD-xGD

This race, one no team really wants to be in, was the closest of all with FC Cincinnati topping the list of teams that underperformed against expected goal difference this season. A second consecutive last place finish in the East ensued for Jaap Stam’s side.

  • FC Cincinnati: -11.67
  • LA Galaxy: -11.64
  • San Jose Earthquakes: -11.35