USL Power ratings: Aug. 27, 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 2.99
  2. Louisville 2.67
  3. Pittsburgh 2.36
  4. Charleston 2.31
  5. Indianapolis 2.19
  6. Nashville 2.13
  7. Bethlehem 2.05 (+2)
  8. NYRB 1.94 (-1)
  9. North Carolina 1.85 (+1)
  10. Ottawa 1.78 (-2)
  11. Penn 1.57 (+1)
  12. Charlotte 1.52 (-1)
  13. Tampa Bay 1.47
  14. Richmond 1.15
  15. Atlanta 1.03
  16. Toronto 0.52

As seems to be the case weekly, not a ton changed here. Indeed, one of the biggest moves (Bethlehem up two) came at the expense of another potential one (I haven’t run the full numbers, but I believe even a draw would have seen Nashville pass Indy). Regular readers know I’ve been a fan of Bethlehem disappointed that they couldn’t take that next step… but with six wins and a draw in the past seven, I guess they’ve done that. That the clincher came against Nashville… is unfortunate for the general subject matter of this blog.

Nashville’s three-week trendline is back down again, but I’d say the only truly bad result was Saturday’s loss to Bethlehem – and it’s easy to understand the mechanism through which that happened (60 minutes of 10-man soccer) is not likely to be replicated. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t count, but it’s not something I’d say is likely to happen with any regularity.

Other moves include a drop for Ottawa after getting blanked by a previously-struggling Penn team (that it was only impactful enough for Penn to move them past a poor Charlotte team should be telling), and a few minor shakeups down the line.

Bethlehem and NYRB2 are 7-8 in the projected standings at this point, and based on my personal feelingsball impressions of the league… that feels about right. I could see Bethlehem keep up its strong streak and take fifth or sixth, though there are enough games remaining that nobody except Cincy (and increasingly Louisville) feels locked into its current spot in the playoffs.

Obviously the bottom six-ish teams feel effectively eliminated at this time. (At least Cincinnati outspent Tampa Bay to save them the embarrassment of being by far the most expensive team in USL history… and also missing the playoffs?). We aren’t quite to “teams are officially eliminated from the playoffs” level yet, but that still doesn’t mean I’m adding Toronto’s trendline to the bottom of the chart. (We could have official “in” and “eliminated” teams as soon as next week, depending on results, by the way).

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 2.95
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.61 (+1)
  3. Orange County 2.57 (-1)
  4. Sacramento Republic 2.39 (+1)
  5. Reno 1868 2.25 (-1)
  6. Portland Timbers 2.13
  7. Swope Park 2.04 (+2)
  8. St. Louis 2.03
  9. San Antonio 1.90 (-2)
  10. Fresno FC 1.74
  11. OKC Energy 1.63 (+1)
  12. Colorado Springs 1.54 (-1)
  13. LA Galaxy II 1.46
  14. Las Vegas Lights 1.46
  15. Rio Grande Valley 1.34
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.06
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 1.00

Phoenix Rising returned to what feels like their rightful place as No. 2 in the West… thanks to an absolute head-scratcher from Orange County, which moves down after an absolute head-scratcher by losing(!) at home(!!) to a terrible Rio Grande Valley team(!!!).

Other changes are similarly small in scale, but feel significant with Sacramento moving up to third (they had been as high as second just a few weeks ago) after a narrow win over Reno. Swope Park moves into playoff range – as I predicted last week – though obviously I’m not super-confident they’ll remain there.

The top five, and maybe even the top six depending on how you feel about the Timbers, are safe, and it remains a three-horse race between Swope, St. Louis, and San Antonio for that final pair of playoff berths. There are enough high-leverage games remaining (Swope hosts both in the same week in mid-September, for example) that the final order can’t be predicted. Remember, just a couple weeks ago, San Antonio was on top of that pile – including over the Timbers – and now is playing the caboose.

LA was way less fun by suffering the expected blasting at the hands of RSL rather than their crazy penchant for upsetting or being upset in like 11-goal games. But that’s fine, just not fun. The bottom five-plus are effectively out of the hunt by now. That’s more true in the West than the East, where nearly 79% of total games have been played, compared to about 72% of Eastern Conference games already in the books. There are fewer games available to make up these gaps.

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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At this point in the year, it takes some wild scorelines to see the amount of swinging that we did this week. Phoenix’s 4-0 win over a mid-table Colorado explains the moves for both, Orange County suffered the aforementioned major upset, Pittsburgh drew a couple crappy teams at home, Reno suffered a big loss, etc.

There are nine Eastern Conference teams (and thus seven Western) in the top 16 – i.e. the deserving playoff teams – of the combined table, so if you take into account minor statistical weirdnesses (for example Nashville losing 2-0 to Toronto, though that particular one doesn’t affect the sample for this week’s swings, it’s certainly outside of the realm of the expected), we’re about even between the conferences.

Tampa Bay and Rio Grande’s huge climbs – for drawing Pittsburgh away and losing by a single goal Cincy at home, and tying LAGII and beating Orange County both away, respectively – are the bigger stories of the week. If those teams can bottle that form, maybe they win a few games to close the year… but I think the holes they’ve dug might be too much to be able to find playoff positioning.

What it means for Nashville SC

You are what your record says you are, and Nashville is still one of the better teams in the league, but not to the level the Boys in Gold had been earlier in the year. They are losing ground; but that’s different than “they now suck.” Losing to Bethlehem was a major missed opportunity – a win there would have had the current and projected tables looking pretty similar.

Still, NSC’s points per game is quite a bit rosier than what the strict points look like, and when you take into account that they’ve still played the toughest schedule in the East, things should level off a bit in the final 10 games (two against Richmond, home against Toronto, at home against New York and Tampa teams that travel pretty poorly, etc.) and if they take care of business, there’s little to worry about in terms of postseason play.

Yes, they do have to go out and win those games. Games in-hand are not guaranteed wins or even guaranteed points. But treating them like guaranteed losses is similarly incorrect (actually much more so, since the average Nashville game played is worth about 1.5 points, and that’s before playing two of the easiest three stretches on the schedule upcoming).

Beat Richmond as expected, and Nashville is easily back where the numbers say it should be. The expected is not always the outcome (and that cuts both ways – a road win at Pittsburgh and a loss to Toronto were unexpected in opposite directions), but over the course of the season, the highs and lows should average to a team that’s about sixth (with a chance to get as high as fourth) in the East.

2 thoughts on “USL Power ratings: Aug. 27, 2018

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