What If?: The MLS table if every shot off the woodwork had been a goal

It's an understandable -- if sometimes frustrating -- refrain to hear losing players or coaches bemoan bad luck after a close loss or disappointing draw. 

The margin between a goal of the week off the underside of the crossbar, and a screamer that rattles it squarely only to be forgotten by Monday morning is but a couple of inches, a difference that could depend on a gust of wind or a drop in dewpoint.

In the end, they say, the breaks even out. But just how much?

The hardworking folks at Opta have helped us find at least one answer to that question. Below, they've provided us with a league table through Week 32 that shows what the standings would look like if every effort that struck the goalframe had instead been a goal.

Eastern Conference

Teams GP W D L GF GA GD PTS
Toronto FC 33 22 4 7 84 43 41 70
New York City FC 33 20 2 11 67 50 17 62
Chicago Fire 33 17 6 10 70 49 21 57
Atlanta United FC 33 16 5 12 77 50 27 53
Columbus Crew SC 33 16 5 12 62 60 2 53
New York Red Bulls 33 14 4 15 58 59 -1 46
Montreal Impact 33 11 7 15 58 69 -11 40
New England Revolution 33 11 5 17 61 74 -13 38
Orlando City SC 33 11 5 17 49 67 -18 38
Philadelphia Union 33 9 10 14 56 58 -2 37
D.C. United 33 9 6 18 41 66 -25 33

Western Conference

Teams GP W D L GF GA GD PTS
Seattle Sounders FC 33 18 6 9 65 47 18 60
Portland Timbers 33 16 7 10 65 51 14 55
Sporting Kansas City 33 15 8 10 51 40 11 53
Houston Dynamo 33 14 6 13 65 53 12 48
FC Dallas 33 13 9 11 55 56 -1 48
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 33 13 7 13 62 62 0 46
San Jose Earthquakes 33 12 5 16 44 74 -30 41
Real Salt Lake 33 12 4 17 61 68 -7 40
Minnesota United FC 33 11 5 17 54 74 -20 38
LA Galaxy 33 11 3 19 56 75 -19 36
Colorado Rapids 33 9 7 17 39 55 -16 34

As a reminder, here's what the current table looks like heading into Decision Day presented by AT&T.

There's nothing lucky about Toronto FC 

As the debate continues to rage over whether Greg Vanney's Reds are the best team in MLS history, these revised numbers certainly suggest their success this season owes to skill more than luck. Toronto would have already broken the 1998 LA Galaxy's record for most points earned by these revised totals rather than merely tying them in Week 32. They'd also be even with that squad -- and four goals better than their current +37 margin -- for the best goal difference in league history

Can't say the same about Vancouver

The Whitecaps currently sit at the top of a volatile Western Conference table despite possessing only a +2 goal differential. In the alternate dimension where every post or crossbar struck equals a goal, their differential would fall by only two goals, but they'd lose six points and five places in the table, squeaking into the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs in the sixth and final West playoff spot.

The West really is wild

Sometimes the margin for error is thinner than others. The 2017 West race is one of those times. Not a single team that currently sits above the playoff line out West would occupy the same spot in the standings in Opta's adjusted reality. Seattle would have comfortably wrapped up the top overall seed. Dallas would have clinched a playoff spot and San Jose would've been eliminated with a league-worst -30 goal differential that makes their current -22 mark look ... less unimpressive?

It would be easy to increase scoring

Occasionally, you'll hear credible soccer people suggest expanding the goals to increase scoring. And the data here suggest it would be effective. For argument's sake, if we assume a goal 25 feet wide by 9 feet tall would have turned every strike of the woodwork into a goal, taking such a drastic step would bump goals per game in the MLS season up to 3.58 from the current, still-healthy 2.93 figure. However ...

The game's better this way

Enlarging goals would make the games higher scoring, but not necessarily more compelling, especially on Decision Day. Opta's revised table shows a scenario where every team has already clinched a playoff berth with one game left to play. In the East, all but two seeds would already be decided. There'd be a few more seeding implications remaining in the West, but not as many as there are at present.

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