Nashville SC

USL Power ratings: July 30, 2018

Nashville’s (slight) drop continues, the East converging toward a top six, and the situation in the West remains hectic as always. 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 2.90
  2. Louisville 2.61 (+1)
  3. Charleston 2.47 (+1)
  4. Pittsburgh 2.42 (-2)
  5. Indianapolis 2.19 (+1)
  6. Nashville 2.10 (-1)
  7. Ottawa 1.93
  8. NYRB 1.90
  9. Bethlehem 1.77
  10. North Carolina 1.74 (+3)
  11. Charlotte 1.69
  12. Penn 1.68 (-2)
  13. Tampa Bay 1.62 (-1)
  14. Richmond 1.29
  15. Atlanta 1.04
  16. Toronto 0.43

Nashville’s poor run of form has officially reached Problem Territory with a loss to Toronto FC II (though that loss is still not enough to bring TFCII close enough to the rest of the league to get me to bother adjusting the bottom of the table to include their trendline). I’ll have much more on NSC, the team of this blog’s primary focus, at the bottom of the post. It’s worth noting that Pittsburgh has taken a recent dive as well, and I’ll touch on that a bit more later, too.

North Carolina FC is a big climber with that win over Pittsburgh, jumping up three spots, while Penn takes a bit of a fall by drawing Charlotte and Tampa… if your home stadium is not going to be a fortress where teams are unable to steal points off you, this is all going to go very poorly. Heck, it was going pretty poorly even when that was still the case.

Mostly the expected just about everywhere else, though the rebound from Louisville City in the wake of losing its coach is a nice little bit of encouragement for fans of The Color Purple.

Pending a continuation of Nashville’s form, we’re still at a very clear top six, with the final two playoff teams in Ottawa and NYRB2 looking fairly solid – though I wouldn’t sleep on Bethlehem: it’s a team capable of going on a nice run… but also one capable of dropping of precipitously and immediately. Which hey, that sounds like NYRB2, heck, it sounds like Nashville at this point, and there’s still enough season left to play that nobody other than TFCII and probably Richmond (even Atlanta could #playthekids in USL for the rest of the year and win a bunch more games if it so chose) is completely out of the playoff hunt.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 3.12
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.48
  3. Sacramento Republic 2.40 (+1)
  4. Orange County 2.38 (+1)
  5. Reno 1868 2.34 (-2)
  6. San Antonio 2.17 (+1)
  7. Swope Park 2.15 (-1)
  8. Portland Timbers 1.95 (+1)
  9. Fresno FC 1.80 (-1)
  10. St. Louis 1.79 (+1)
  11. Colorado Springs 1.56 (-1)
  12. Las Vegas Lights 1.51
  13. OKC Energy 1.39
  14. Rio Grande Valley 1.38 (+1)
  15. LA Galaxy II 1.25 (-1)
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.07
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 0.90

A battle at the top of the table was enough for Real Monarchs to re-assert its dominance as the West’s best team. Had Phoenix beaten them, the margin at the top would have been razor thin, and instead the Butterflies have widened their lead back to where it had been a couple weeks ago. Lots of season left, etc. etc., but that should all-but seal a Western Conference championship barring major changes in form.

There were mostly small changes down the table, but Reno’s loss to St. Louis was enough to provide the only change of multiple positions in the West. As you can see from the graph, though, they went from “slim margin ahead of two teams that are effectively tied with each other” to “slim margin behind two teams that are effectively tied with each other.” There’s going to be a bit of jockeying in those spots over the next several weeks.

With a nice climb numerically from San Antonio (even though it only gained them one spot in the rankings) after wins over Colorado Springs and OKC, it’s looking like a top seven, whereas last week it was six-ish. I’m comfortable saying the five leading the way are relatively comfortable in playoff positions, and I actually do have confidence that if we had to call it today and set the playoff field, the true eight best teams would make it, with the Timbers 2 a deserving participant.

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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Real Monarchs’ not only beating, but banging on a Fellow Good Team in Phoenix gives them a big boost in these rankings (Cincinnati didn’t play, and primarily moves down because the out-of-town scoreboard made some of their previous results look slightly less impressive retroactively).

Nashville’s free-fall continues – they were first just a couple weeks ago! – after a very bad loss. I was actually surprised that the numbers didn’t think it was one of the worst results for any team this year: it was almost exactly two standard deviations below what you’d expect for an average team against TFCII, whereas such glistening results as “Atlanta loses 4-0 to North Carolina FC,” “Charlotte only manages a 2-2 draw against ALT UTD 2 at home,” and even “Bethlehem gives up a goal against Nashville SC at home” are all considered worse. I can certainly confirm that this feels like a bigger deal. That’s why we use the calculator, though: our emotions lie to us.

It’s still worth noting that over the course of the season, Nashville’s the seventh-best team in all of USL (fifth in the East), though obviously recent form is a different story.

North Carolina FC was your big gainer, with its win over Pittsburgh Riverhounds earning a +1.46 game score (their second-best of the year, behind a 3-1 road win in Richmond). Going the other direction was Ottawa, which dropped five spots after following a huge win over Nashville last week with Saturday’s 3-0 clunker against Louisville (and of course, their marquee win of the season also took a huge hit with such facts emerging as, “TFCII can also do it”).

A 3-0 loss for Richmond drops them back to second-worst in the USL and actually within spitting distance of TFCII now that the latter has picked up its first win of the year. They’re a pretty good distance from Atlanta, like Seattle and Tulsa are a pretty good distance behind the West’s third-worst in OKC.

What it means for Nashville SC

The fall continues, and it’s now officially a problem. It’s one thing to lose in Charlotte, or only score one home goal against Atlanta United 2 (especially given that the numbers don’t know that was a very different Baby Five Stripes squad than the one that’s played most of the year), and another entirely to lose to Toronto. Even Ottawa has been playing well lately, and losing up there stunk, but it happened in such a way that 90% of the time when a game plays out similarly, it’s a 1-0 Nashville win.

Over the course of the season, Nashville is still a very good team. Not having had an above-average result since July 7 – and that result still only being a tie, albeit against one of the best teams in USL – is still very worrisome. The three worst results of the year all coming in the past seven games is something, too.

I’ll delve a bit more into this in a post later today, but essentially it boils down to what proportion of the recent results you attribute to each of three factors: 1) this is just how good the team is and has been and the early-season results were fool’s gold 2) there has been a precipitous dropoff in the team’s quality that will persist through the end of the year, and 3) this is just a bit of crappy luck that is going to happen over the course of the season when you don’t outspend every team to ensure it doesn’t (that second part obviously tying into No. 1, as well).

Clearly, I’m more in the camps of the latter pair, though all three play something of a role. Take a look at Pittsburgh, for example: they looked like the Beast of the East just a couple weeks ago, and suddenly have back-to-back losses to a meh Charleston Battery and a bad NCFC. Does that mean they’re a bad team? No, it means that they have a poor run of form. It happens over the course of a season.

There’s stuff for Nashville to fix, but the sky is not falling. This recent “they will not make the playoffs” narrative among the more pessimistic portions of the fanbase is not only failing to understand broader context, but not an accurate depiction of reality at all (especially when NSC has made it very clear that they’re bringing in an international slot-requiring reinforcement very soon).

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