MLS Spotlight: Standings and PDO Reflect Unpredictable Early Season

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Staff Writer

“I’m not taking much stock into the standings right now.”

It’s a blanket statement that is the consensus amongst those that have covered MLS this season.

The only teams whose position on the standings reflect their play are those that are on the top and bottom of it. Chivas USA, Toronto FC and DC United have all been disastrous in their own unique ways. While at the top, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake should each have had long unbeaten streaks coming to this point, but suffered hard luck losses.

It’s debatable whether or not the current standing of the other fourteen teams are a true reflection of that team’s performance and ability.

A midseason check of the PDO table also reflects, to an extent, how unpredictable the season has been so far. To quickly explain the methodology, PDO is the sum of a team’s shooting and save percentage. The last column (deviation) is the most significant. The average save percentage thus far is 69.16 and the average shooting percentage is 9.94. Thus the average PDO in MLS at midseason is 79.09. The standard deviation for this table is ~5.40.

Teams currently in playoff positions are italicized.

Team                 Shot%            Save%          PDO         Deviation

New England    12.05               75.29            87.35              8.26

Portland             10.99               75.28            86.27              7.18

RSL                      11.65               74.51             86.16              7.07

FC Dallas           10.47              73.39             83.86             4.77

Vancouver          11.91               71.74             83.65             4.56

Montreal            12.45               69.57            82.02              2.93

Seattle                 11.21                70.00           81.21               2.12

RBNY                  12.45               68.48            80.93             1.84

Houston              8.55                72.29            80.84             1.75

Columbus           8.36                 71.72            80.08            0.99

Colorado             9.00                70.65            79.66             0.57

Philadelphia     11.26               68.04             79.30            0.21

San Jose              8.16                69.72             77.88           -1.21

Chicago               8.80               65.88             74.69           -4.40

Sporting KC        9.20               65.08             74.28           -4.81

Chivas USA        8.92               65.25              74.17            -4.92

Toronto FC         9.22               63.10              72.32            -6.77

LA Galaxy           9.91               60.53              70.43           -8.66

DC United           4.24               63.44              67.38           -11.41

All but one of the teams in playoff positions have positive PDOs, but three of them are more than one deviation away from the mean. Depending on your interpretation of PDO, you can say that those teams, particularly the top three, have been the luckiest this season. When you consider RSL’s luck the past two weeks, that argument weakens.

So tossing the luck argument aside, what conclusions can be made from the PDO table?

To start, instead of concerning ourselves with PDO and deviation, let’s look at PDOs components (shooting and save percentage). The overall sign of a bad team is when it cannot score or stop anyone from scoring. DC United is a prime example of this. They have the third worst save percentage and by far the worst shooting percentage. It gets worse when the number of shots faced by United is right around the league average. Joe Willis is the one hurt most by these figures as he has the second worst save percentage of any goalie who started five or more games. But he is not the goalkeeper most detrimental to his team; that honor goes to Carlo Cudicini.

The Galaxy have the league’s second worst PDO despite being in eighth place overall. Their shooting percentage is basically on par with the rest of the league but they have, by almost three full points, the league’s worst save percentage at 60.53. Cudicini has the worst save percentage out of goalies who have started 15 or more games at 58.79. If the Galaxy’s save percentage was just at the league average, then they would have probably won more games and definitely be the statistical favorites for the Supporters Shield because of the lack of potential regression. Finally, when you consider the fact that the Galaxy face the second fewest number of shots in the league, the conclusion is very apparent. Cudicini is holding them back.

On the other end of the table, the Revolution will not be as prolific as they have been in the early part of the season. It is important to remember that a team does not need to score a high amount of goals to be prolific; it’s just a matter of shooting percentage. The average shooting percentage for an MLS team from the past season and a half is 10.26%. So far this season the average number of shots a team takes is about 270. So we can estimate that if a team takes 270 shots and scores 10% of the time, they should have 27 goals at this point. New England has 27 goals but on 224 shots. Montreal has 32 on 257.

Through the principle of regression, there is no way either of these teams are going to continue their strike rates.

Portland are also due to regress, but it is very likely that it will not be as noticeable as other teams with very high PDOs. This is because the number of shots they face is right around the league average and they are only three goals above their projected total based on the 10% average mentioned earlier. Just consider the extraordinary goals the Timbers have scored this year. There’s Diego Valeri’s solo effort against New York, Rodney Wallace’s debut, stoppage time equalizer at Seattle and Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s stoppage time winner against the Galaxy.

Those three goals gave Portland four points. If the Timbers don’t get those points, they are sixth in the conference on 30 points; not a bad place to be. The idea is the Timbers are not going to get all of those four points in the second half of the year, but they are still going to continue their solid performance.

The team in the best position based on standings and PDO is the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids are currently in second place out west and have a deviation of 0.57, only Philadelphia has a deviation closer to zero. Subjectively, the Union are fourth in the East above a Houston Dynamo team that is better than them. The Dynamo will surpass the Union and leave them in a battle for fifth where anything can happen for the final playoff spot. While both teams are not likely to regress, the Rapids are in a stronger position in the West and with their solid defense and new attacking pieces, they are more likely to stay right around their spot in the West.

In an unpredictable early season where standings might not tell us everything, the Rapids current standing and PDO figure indicate that this team is going to deservedly stay in the hunt for the West and Supporters Shield as the season goes on.