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



Game 1: Portland at Seattle
Seattle: 1.71 Home G/G, 0.85 Home DM
Portland: 1.47 Road G/G, 0.82 Road DM
Game 1 Computer Prediction: Seattle 1.40 – 1.24 Portland (Draw)

Game 2: Seattle at Portland
Portland: 1.71 Home G/G, 0.62 Home DM
Seattle: 0.76 Road G/G, 1.01 Road DM
Game 2 Prediction: Portland 1.72 – 0.47 Seattle (Portland win)

There’s little sense in predicting this series, as any game between the two northwestern rivals is a cup tie. This one is too close for the formula to call it a Sounders victory, so if Portland hold true to their season averages, they should be able to take the series back to the Rose City on level terms.

The predicted result of Game 2 at Portland is the largest margin predicted in any playoff game, according to the simulator. Portland’s defensive stats make them tough to crack at JELD-WEN, and if the numbers hold true, they may very well blow the doors off Seattle and into the conference finals.


Game 1: Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy
LA Galaxy: 1.88 Home G/G, 0.45 Home DM
Real Salt Lake: 1.53 Road G/G, 0.93 Road DM
Game 1 Computer Prediction: LA Galaxy 1.74 – 0.68 Real Salt Lake (LA win)

Game 2: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake: 1.82 Home G/G, 0.90 Home DM
LA Galaxy: 1.24 Road G/G, 1.12 Road DM
Game 2 Computer Prediction: Real Salt Lake 2.03 – 1.11 LA Galaxy (RSL win)

LA Galaxy has been perplexing all year. They allowed the fewest goals per game of any home team in MLS, yet they were among the highest in road goals allowed per game. For a few weeks in July they inexplicably led both categories. Real Salt Lake, incidentally, has the highest road goals scored average in all of MLS, but my computer predictor is not impressed by that stat at all. LA’s home defensive multiplier eviscerates RSL’s stellar road goals ratio, giving Landy’s boys the edge in Game 1.

Real Salt Lake will come away victorious in this match, but if we go by aggregate score over two legs, the Galaxy will advance to the conference semifinals yet again. RSL will certain get some goals against Los Angeles, but LA should be able to grab one back and ensure their passage to the next round.

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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