USL Power ratings: July 2, 2018

A down week at the top in the Eastern Conference, while the West’s dominant side dips slightly… but not particularly close to the pack. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 2.72
  2. Nashville 2.62
  3. Louisville 2.54
  4. Pittsburgh 2.43 (+1)
  5. Indianapolis 2.37 (-1)
  6. Bethlehem 2.14 (+1)
  7. Charleston 2.11 (-1)
  8. Penn 1.76 (+1)
  9. NYRB 1.67 (+1)
  10. Charlotte 1.64 (-2)
  11. Ottawa 1.60
  12. North Carolina 1.56 (+1)
  13. Tampa Bay 1.45 (-1)
  14. Richmond 1.27
  15. Atlanta 1.03
  16. Toronto 0.25

The top three teams all suffered at least one bad result this week (Cincinnati drew Toronto, Nashville lost to Indy, Louisville lost to Pittsburgh), so not a ton changed on the high end, other than dropping closer to the pack. Look at the trajectory of Louisville, though: with a coach on the way out of town, a roster that remains banged-up and won’t get as much rest as anyone else with a US Open Cup game remaining, four straight weeks of precipitous drop… that doesn’t carry a good all-around feel.

Pittsburgh and Indy both climb after the aforementioned upsets, though the Riverhounds make a steeper ascent thanks to not following up their midweek victory with a draw against a mediocre team at the weekend. Charleston and Bethlehem maintain pace behind them to round out what has become a relatively consistent top seven.

Behind that group, there’s a mass of teams competing for the eighth and final playoff spot. Penn FC is in pole position for now, but the back-and-forth jockeying could reasonably include any team down to No. 13 Tampa Bay (especially if they start to play like the second-most expensive roster in the USL rather than… whatever the heck they’ve been doing). I don’t have any faith Richmond will make the results to be consistently in that group, while Atlanta and Toronto are mostly counting down the days until mathematical elimination from the playoff hunt – though with less than half the season played, there’s a while before that’s in sight.

And yes, I left Toronto’s trendline off the bottom of the chart again, which (for once) feels unfair, simply because “improving power rating by half” seems like something that should be celebrated graphically.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 3.42
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.62 (+1)
  3. Swope Park 2.58 (-1)
  4. Orange County 2.28 (+1)
  5. Sacramento Republic 2.25 (-1)
  6. Reno 1868 2.18
  7. Portland Timbers 1.96
  8. San Antonio 1.87
  9. Colorado Springs 1.78 (+1)
  10. St. Louis 1.75 (-1)
  11. Las Vegas Lights 1.64
  12. Fresno FC 1.63
  13. OKC Energy 1.30
  14. LA Galaxy II 1.16 (+1)
  15. Rio Grande Valley 1.09 (+1)
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.06 (-2)
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 0.92

A couple big climbs weren’t rewarded with changed in rank, but the accompanying numbers made #gains: Fresno FC’s rating improved by 0.14 but that only took them from “close to getting caught from behind” to “close to catching Vegas from behind.” It’s a solid uptick nonetheless, as was Tulsa Roughnecks’ performance. Their win against LAGII and draw against LAGII helped them gain 0.24 in rating. They’re still at the bottom, but now within striking distance of Sounders 2.

…it was those very Sounders who took the only multi-position dive this week, with a loss to fellow bottom-type team LA Galaxy II last night (and that doesn’t even take into account the way they lost, which was “give up five goals”).

At this point, the top five-ish seems to be separated as a tier, though if Reno is able to have another solid week (they host one of the USL’s best teams in Real Monarchs, then travel to one of the worst in Seattle), I’d be ready to call that a top six the next time around.

Either way, there isn’t the distinct stratification into bands that we see in the Eastern Conference – in part because Real is so far ahead of the pack (and so consistent) that there hasn’t been the opportunity to develop those tiers, despite more games played throughout the conference. I’d be willing to say that anybody down to No. 12 Fresno is in realistic playoff contention, with a couple teams below – particularly the Galaxy – capable of going on a run to get themselves out of the cellar, as well.

Pure Power

This rating method uses almost an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

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Nashville drops from the top spot in the league after its first home loss of the year, but remains tops among Eastern conference teams. Real Salt Lake feels like it should be No. 1 overall based on results, but remember: these rankings don’t take into account if they won or lost an individual game, just how good their performances on each side of the ball were. Since they’re not as offensively potent (or volatile) as their Western brethren, scoring under two goals per game, they don’t have as big a lead as you might expect on the basis of their impressive 2.3 points/game.

Indy Eleven is a huge climber on the basis of not just a win in Nashville, but only the second and third goals scored by an opponent in Music City all season, and the second shutout of the Boys in Gold on home turf.

Bethlehem Steel also makes nice gains for absolutely thrashing Charlotte Independence by a 4-1 margin. Charlotte is hardly the most impressive team, but taking care of business with big scorelines is always going to be a boost here. It’s also going to have the opposite effect on the Independence, even though the performance was only about a standard deviation below the average Steel opponent in Bethlehem.

Reno’s win over Portland 2 naturally affected the teams in opposite directions. It was a blah offensive output but a great defensive one for 1868, while it was a brutal offensive one failing to complement a solid defensive day for the Timbers.

Big rise for North Carolina after beating an awful Richmond team? Surprisingly, the Kickers aren’t that bad at home, and NCFC became only the second team to put up three road goals this season. The result was worse for Richmond (nearly two standard deviations below average), though by a small margin.

Cincinnati remains the best offense in USL, though FCC’s defense is almost exactly average (they’re the only team in the top ten without a D significantly better than average, while Pittsburgh’s offense is now joined by Louisville’s as the only below-average units on either side for a top ten team).

What it means for Nashville SC

NSC has 19 regular-season games remaining. They are:

  • v. Cincinnati (.912 road)
  • @ Charlotte (-.017 home)
  • @ Ottawa (-.293 home)
  • v. Atlanta (-.868 road)
  • @ Toronto (-.993 home)
  • @ Cincinnati (.251 home)
  • v. Ottawa (-.258 road)
  • @ Louisville (.027 home)
  • v. Bethlehem (.041 road)
  • v. Richmond (-.868 road)
  • @ Charlotte (-.017 home)
  • @ North Carolina (-.101 home)
  • v. Tampa Bay (-.467 road)
  • v. Charleston (.285 road)
  • @ Atlanta (-.335 home)
  • v. New York (-.288 road)
  • @ Richmond (-.500 home)
  • v. Toronto (-1.233 road)
  • v. Cincinnati (.912 road)

That’s six games against teams who are above average considering the home/road split where they’ll be played (fully half of those against FC Cincinnati), and 13 against below-average performers. Given that Nashville remains the best home team and is the fourth-best road team in the USL East, they should be able to do well against that schedule.

Nashville has a chance to make its first serious statement against Cincinnati this weekend. If they can get a win – or even just a result – they have four straight games against below-average competition (though @Charlotte is close enough to zero to consider them about average, still Nashville’s .618 road score is relevant here) before facing Die Fußballer again, this time on the road.

While the schedule after that game is a little bit rockier, the lead-in to the season finale features one of the easiest four-game stretches (hosting the worst and fourth-worst road teams, traveling to the second- and third-worst home teams) possible in the East.

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