MLS Playoff Math: Using Statistics to Predict the MLS Cup Champion



Game 1: New York at Houston
Houston: 1.41 Home G/G, 0.96 Home DM
New York: 1.41 Road G/G, 0.93 Road DM
Game 1 Computer Prediction: Houston 1.31 – 1.35 New York (Draw)

Game 2: Houston at New York
New York: 2.00 Home G/G, 0.90 Home DM
Houston: 1.00 Road G/G, 0.90 Road DM
Game 2 Computer Prediction: New York 1.80 – 0.90 Houston (New York win)

Because I don’t work with a lot of whole numbers, whenever the final scores are within 0.35 of one another, I call the contest a draw. In this instance, New York and Houston are too close for statistical comfort in Game 1. We can talk all day about New York’s 7-1 aggregate score this season at BBVA Compass Stadium, but, as I always tell people, past results do not guarantee future performance.

New York enters the playoffs with the highest home goals/game ratio of any playoff team. Their home goals allowed figure isn’t super low, but it is below the league average. Houston’s road goals/game figure isn’t scary, and it is enough to predict that New York should win Game 2 and advance to the conference finals should these teams meet.


Game 1: Sporting KC at New England
New England: 1.71 Home G/G, 0.90 Home DM
Sporting KC: 1.06 Road G/G, 0.56 Road DM
Game 1 Computer Prediction: New England 0.95 – 0.95 Kansas City (Draw)

Game 2: New England at Sporting KC
Sporting KC: 1.71 Home G/G, 0.85 Home DM
New England: 1.18 Road G/G, 0.82 Road DM
Game 2 Computer Prediction: Sporting KC 1.40 – 1.00 New England (Sporting win)

Game 1 is a statistical dead heat. Sporting KC does not score a ton of goals on the road, but they don’t allow many either. Their 0.56 road defensive multiplier is the stoutest amongst the 10 playoff sides and it makes them very difficult to nick on the road. New England has been solid at Gillette this season, but not enough here to get them a home result here.

The return leg should be a tight affair, but dropping points at home may doom New England in this series. Sporting’s home cooking this season hasn’t been as hot as the city’s signature barbecue, and they have lost at home in the last two playoff years, but the math suggests that they should win Game 2 and the series against the Revs.

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  • Dave from Dix Hills

    So ……. Much …….. Math …… Wouldn’t hurt my brain as much if Red Bulls won at the end though.

  • Aguinaga

    Fun exercise. Only thing missing from the analysis is the statistical probablity that the predictions made all come to pass :)

    • Bill Reese

      Well, there can only be 3 outcomes to a match (not including penalty kick wins, which go in the book as draws, technically). So, I have a 33% chance of making a correct pick. There are 15 playoff games. So you’d go .333 to the 15th power, which is a number I cannot begin to comprehend. My best calculation is that you would have a 0.00167% chance of picking all 15 correct in a world where Win, Loss and Draw had even chances of occurring. That translates to a 1.67 chance out of 1,000