USL Power ratings: Sept. 24, 2018

Mostly a chalk-ish week, but some interesting swings in the USL. 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. I’ve switched from including the raw number to showing projected points only. It’s more broadly applicable to the layman.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati – 78 points
  2. Louisville – 63 points
  3. Pittsburgh – 61 points
  4. Charleston – 57 points
  5. Indianapolis – 51 points
  6. Nashville – 49 points
  7. Bethlehem – 48 points
  8. North Carolina (+1) – 47 points
  9. NYRB 1.89 (-1) – 46 points*
  10. Ottawa 1.82 – 44 points
  11. Tampa Bay (+2) – 45 points*
  12. Charlotte (-1) – 42 points
  13. Penn (-1) – 39 points
  14. Atlanta – 28 points
  15. Richmond – 25 points
  16. Toronto – 15 points

*I’ve now baked in the non-conference results for NYRBII (draw against LA Galaxy II) and Tampa Bay (win over Real Monarchs) into the projected point totals, though they aren’t reflected in the ratings themselves. It basically docks Red Bulls half a projected point and gives Tampa 1.8 projected points.

The chart no longer includes Cincinnati, because they’re so far ahead of the pack (already locked into first, whereas nobody else has even clinched eighth yet) as to make the more interesting middle portion of the chart tougher to read. I similarly excised Atlanta, Richmond, and Toronto from the bottom, so we can have a clearer view of those still jockeying for relevant positions.

Charleston remains in fourth but drops a couple projected points. The system works in aggregate, rather than projecting individual games, but you can essentially interpret that as they dropped two against Nashville that they were “expected” to get.

There’s still a pretty intense battle at spots 7, 8, and 9 (and Nashville seems intent on making No. 6 be party to that battle as well). Red Bulls are the team on the outside looking in this week, though it’s close enough that any of those can certainly be in any of the four spots in play.

How about Tampa, though? Two wins in a week is two wins in a week, and it doesn’t matter if one of them is semi-fluky (an uncharacteristic penalty conceded and an own-goal by Nashville) and the other comes against Richmond when it gets down to it. Wins in four out of five – after adding some good personnel at the roster deadline – could have them poised to make some playoff noise.

At this point, Charlotte and Penn are pretty close to sealing their status as also-rans – though of course the Tampa climb is a lesson to not bury anyone too quickly, they’re headed in the wrong direction (more on this in a later section).

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USL West power rankings

  1. Orange County (+1) – 67 points
  2. Phoenix Rising (-1) – 65 points
  3. Real Monarchs – 60 points*
  4. Sacramento Republic – 58 points
  5. Portland Timbers – 54 points
  6. St. Louis (+2) – 53 points
  7. Reno 1868 (-1) – 53 points
  8. Swope Park (-1) – 53 points
  9. San Antonio – 48 points
  10. OKC Energy – 42 points
  11. Fresno FC – 41 points
  12. LA Galaxy II (+1) – 40 points*
  13. Colorado Springs (-1) – 38 projected points
  14. Rio Grande Valley – 36 points
  15. Las Vegas Lights – 33 points
  16. Tulsa Roughnecks (+1) – 25 points
  17. Seattle Sounders (-1) – 24 points

*As above, Real Monarchs’ projected points and LAGII’s include their non-conference results. That means the point totals won’t quite follow with the ratings themselves. 

I should probably re-scale this chart to excise the bottom couple teams (which are basically going to finish in those two positions in one order or the other), like I did in the East. Next week, maybe.

The battle remains in those 5-9 spots, and with San Antonio’s recent form, I think we’re close to knowing who the playoff field is going to be, with SAFC missing out on the heels of a couple pretty bad weeks. The order among them (and then also between the top two, and Real Monarchs seem poised to let Sacramento challenge them for second-round homefield position).

There’s a lot of jockeying going on in that middle ground, with St. Louis the hotter team among them right now, on three straight weeks of rising up – going in the opposite direction of a San Antonio team that seemed comfortably ahead of them not too long ago.

LA Galaxy II remain perfect to their brand by being both incredibly predictable on a macro level (insane week-to-week results and a lot of goals) while being incredibly unpredictable (6-1 win over Real Monarchs!) on a micro level. I dig it. #Efra4USMNT, by the way.

Tulsa is no longer in the cellar despite going 0-1-1 this week, losing to Sacramento and tying Swope. They have the Sounders’ loss to RGV to thank for that.

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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Lots of shakeup here, with results both expected and unexpected playing into varying degrees of movement. Phoenix passes Orange County for the No. 2 spot in USL, which (given that they’re now projects to finish behind them in the table) should make for an interesting last couple weeks at the top of the West.

Portland passes the Monarchs – who appear to be sort of terrible? – Bethlehem slides past a Nashville team that went 0-1-1 in two home games this week, RGV and Swope move past the sinking San Antonio, etc.

The biggest move of the week is a six-spot drop for Reno… despite their only result being a draw. That draw did come to a Vegas team that is bad generally and particularly so on the road, of course. The bigger issue is slight impact from the out-of-town scoreboard (their 3-0 win over Real Monarchs is greatly diminished by the Monarchs being the type of team that can lose to the Galaxy by five goals) and the teams around them in the rankings moving up in raw numbers. It is a drop, but not as big a one in the components as it turns out to be on the table.

The other is a drop for Ottawa, which loses four positions after getting thrashed 4-0 by a Louisville City team that is obviously quite good, but is considerably less so at home. That makes a bit more sense in the bigger scheme.

Looking at the pretty shading, your individual component outliers in comparison to where a team sits on the table are Salt Lake City’s road form, Nashville’s offense (shocker!), Red Bulls’ offense (for the positive – even though they’re still in the top 16 overall, the O is second-best in the league), Reno’s road form, and the defenses of both Colorado Springs and Ottawa.

Playoffs?

A minor point of clarification on these – they don’t take into account tiebreakers, so the “best” assumes being the top team in any multi-way tie, whereas “worst” assumes being the bottom team in any multi-way tie. Portland, for example, can finish as low as a tie for eighth… but on tiebreakers, they’ve already clinched playoff position.

Everybody in play in the East except for Cincinnati (already clinched, and already clinched first) and Richmond Toronto (already eliminated). Louisville will clinch with its next point (or dropped points from at least one of Nashville/North Carolina/New York/Bethlehem), whereas Atlanta United 2 is any missed points (or a single NCFC/Ottawa point) from being out.

Four teams have clinched on points in the West, while, as mentioned above, Portland has actually already clinched on tiebreakers. Seven teams have already been officially eliminated (which speaks to the stratification in the table mentioned in the Table Power section). OKC can’t quite be eliminated from contention in the midweek, and as mentioned in multiple previous sections, San Antonio is hanging onto hope for grabbing that final spot. Swope is a win away from clinching, while St. Louis is a win and a San Anotnio loss away.

What it means for Nashville SC

Not getting at least two points out of last week was pretty tough, but it doesn’t change the projections all that much. Yes, it makes the margin for error quite a bit smaller, but NSC is still headed for the same position. They also retain at least one gam in-hand on every team in the playoff hunt except North Carolina FC, so if they can finally, you know, make those games in-hand matter (Gary Smith mentioned this in his postgame Saturday), it should be fairly safe.

Sliding down the Pure Power table (which predicts game-to-game quality, rather than projecting the table) is a little worrisome, because it could mean that the Steel have a better run to finish the season than Nashville does on current form. The Steel are one of those teams jockeying for the final couple playoff spots.

Of course, with Atlanta, Toronto, and Richmond all coming up, Nashville simply needs to take care of business to make the playoffs – a loss against any of those three teams is bordering on inexcusable (even though NSC already has lost to Toronto once this year), and certainly so when the Boys in Gold are trying to fight for their playoff lives.

Win those, and the Red Bulls game (which comes after only the trip to Atlanta) is a true six-pointer. A win would all-but seal Nashville passing NYRBII on the final table. For now, the focus has to be – and this sounds like coach-speak, but it’s not, because Nashville has proven to be vulnerable in these situations – on taking care of business against Atlanta, otherwise the rest of it begins to become irrelevant.

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