Nashville SC sits eighth in the East… time to worry?

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Nashville SC stands eighth in the USL’s Eastern Conference, currently occupying the final playoff slot if the season were to end today (you know, those seasons that end after less than 15% completion). However, various power rankings slot them in that spot – or even below it – indicating that their season to date has actually been worse than the number of points they’ve accrued in that time. (Not picking on Bryan here either; his tweet was just my entry point into this thought process).

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In my eyes, we’re basically still in “calm before the storm” territory this season. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.

At this early stage, the mechanism for that would be that the schedule is not representative of the difficulty the rest of the way: an easy strength of schedule means that Nashville is overachieving in points per game in comparison to what they’ll do the rest of the season. I think you see where I’m going with this.

In fact, Nashville SC has played the most difficult slate to date in the Eastern Conference. Their opponents have averaged 1.86 points per game, nearly a tenth of a point clear of the second-toughest, Richmond (which has played a bad NCFC, a good New York Red Bulls II, and three common opponents with the Boys in Gold: Louisville, Indianapolis, and Bethlehem).

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“Power” is a team’s average points per game multiplied by their opponents’ strength (middle column)

Of course, Nashville has donated a few points to the teams they’ve played (three each to Louisville and Indy, one to Pittsburgh). How good have those teams been when not playing NSC? Actually, slightly better, with an average of 2.00 points per game. Cincinnati moves up even more (they have one fewer loss than NSC, meaning they gave up three fewer points), going from 1.76 points per game with the contests against FCC included to a first-place tie at 2.00 in opponent points per game against other opponents. Like Richmond, their schedule is pretty close to Nashville’s, with Louisville, Indianapolis, and Bethlehem in common, while also playing Charleston instead of Pittsburgh and Louisville.

 

All this is to say: Nashville has decent results to date, and far from being a product of an easy schedule, theirs has been the most difficult in the USL (tied with Cincinnati in what I think to be the better of the two ways to look at it). The easiest schedules by far have gone to Charlotte Eagles and Pittsburgh Riverhounds, which might explain semi-surprising strong beginnings to the season. They might slide back, as each is more than half a point clear than the No. 3 easiest schedule (Red Bulls II, after whom there’s a reasonably regular spread).

Of course, NSC has one of the most difficult schedules overall, with triple plays against Louisville, Cincy, Charlotte, and Atlanta United 2 (currently sitting No. 9, having done so against the No. 3 toughest schedule to date in the league). While things have been tough so far, that means they aren’t necessarily going to equalize over the course of the year.

So, based on my calculations, the power rankings (based exclusively on results to date) would be reasonably be the following:

  1. Louisville City FC – 5.40
  2. Fußball Club Cincinnati – 3.50
  3. Indy Eleven – 2.89
  4. Atlanta United 2 – 2.83
  5. Nashville SC – 2.80
  6. Tampa Bay Rowdies – 2.7
  7. New York Red Bulls II – 2.4
  8. Charleston Battery – 1.5
  9. Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 1.4
  10. Richmond Kickers – 1.36
  11. Bethlehem Steel – 1.28
  12. Penn FC – 1.00
  13. North Carolina FC – 1.00*
  14. Charlotte Independence – 0.86
  15. Toronto FC II – 0.00
  16. Ottawa Fury FC – 0.00*

Tie broken on strength of schedule multiplier in instances where the product comes out the same… including the two winless teams.

Goal differential, home/away, and any other factor traditionally taken into account has not been included here. However, aside from Charlotte Independence, no team seems to be placed in a spot that is far removed from the eyeball test and results to date. For what it’s worth, that team has its triple-plays against Nashville and North Carolina FC (two home), plus Charleston Battery and Richmond Kickers (two away), making for a pretty easy slate that should let them stay in the playoff positions.

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