Welcome to the USL power ratings! Herein, I’ll give weekly updates on the Eastern and Western Conference with a projected final table. Making its 2019 debut this week: Pure Power, which is an attempt to measure team quality rather than reflect what current form says the final table will look like.
This rating method combines points per game with the quality of opposition played (also measured in points per game). It’s blind to home/away splits as well as scoring margin.
USL East power rankings:
- Tampa Bay (+3) – 72.57 projected points
- Ottawa (+1) – 70.83 points
- Saint Louis (-2) – 70.01 points
- Indy (+2) – 65.69 points
- NYRB2 – 63.64 points
- Nashville (-3) – 58.11 points
- Charleston – 53.59 points
- Louisville City (+2) – 50.36 points
- Pittsburgh (-1) – 49.17 points
- North Carolina (-1) – 48.86 points
- Birmingham – 42.54 points
- Atlanta 2 (+1) – 34.64 points
- Bethlehem (+1) – 32.91 points
- Loudoun (-2) – 31.60 points
- Memphis – 27.58 points
- Swope Park – 24.78 points
- Charlotte – 22.82 points
- Hartford – 11.92 points
Hey now, Tampa Bay! The Rowdies keep on winning, and by doing it against a team with an elite record (their third such opponent in just over two weeks, with a 2-0-1 record in those games), they’ve completed their climb to the top of the charts, and until they lose they’ll certainly be staying there.
By taking care of business against Bethlehem, Ottawa also passes Saint Louis to take over the No. 2 spot. I do think their current standing is a bit of a paper tiger: they’ve played four teams who are any good with an 0-2-2 record against them (1-2-2 in five if you still include North Carolina in that elite cohort, but they seem to be rapidly dropping out of it). They’ve played the dregs of the league and gone 5-0 (or 4-0) against them. This is a team that will take care of business against bad teams – Nashville fans would certainly appreciate some of that right now! It’s nothing to be ashamed of! – but doesn’t seem to be hyper-competitive against the top of the league. When they aren’t holding a couple games in hand against most of the league, I’ll take them a little more seriously.
Nashville’s second week of a precipitous drop is now in the books, with last week’s loss to Tampa not particularly upsetting in hindsight, but… well, it’ll probably be a while before they put a home game against Charlotte in the same bucket. What had looked like a stretch to potentially run up some points is off to a rockier beginning than anyone expected.
There’s a fairly big cliff between No. 10 North Carolina and No. 11 Birmingham, and an even bigger one (much bigger) between the Legion and No. 12 ATL UTD 2. Cwertainly form will change over the course of the year (Nashville and Indy saw their projected point totals change by about seven points apiece in opposite directions this week alone), but it would take a pretty extended run of form for the current playoff field to change, and an even bigger one for anyone currently below that No. 10 line other than Birmingham to crawl into it.
Meanwhile, hey! League win for Hartford Athletic! My plan to keep them off the bottom of the chart probably meets its dismal end for the year. It’ll be interesting to see if they can challenge for the No. 17 spot, especially when they have 15 home games and just eight away game remaining.
USL West power rankings
- Fresno FC – 66.66 projected points
- New Mexico (+2) – 60.55 points
- Portland Timbers 2 (-1) – 56.84 points
- El Paso (+3) – 56.19 points
- Reno 1868 (-2) – 52.80 points
- Austin Bold (-1) – 52.43 points
- Phoenix Rising (+5) – 50.85 points
- Tulsa Roughnecks (-2) – 48.79 points
- OKC Energy (-3) – 45.94 points
- Orange County (+5) – 43.98 points
- Real Monarchs (+1) – 43.23 points
- Rio Grande Valley (+2) – 43.08 points
- Sacramento Republic (-3) – 42.76 points
- LA Galaxy II (-6) – 42.42 points
- Las Vegas Lights (-2) – 38.86 points
- San Antonio – 35.56 points
- Colorado Springs – 25.76 points
- Tacoma Defiance – 19.63 points
I’ll get to some conference-leader talk in a moment, but YO, look at that logjam from Orange County to LA Galaxy 2. There are five teams separated by barely more than a point and a half – and it’s jockeying for the last playoff position. This is basically the opposite of the status in the East, where things look like we’re mostly determining who fits where within a specific tier, rather than fighting for playoff spots (long season, form changes, and all those caveats). LA-Orange County is the only game this week between teams within that small grouping.
Meanwhile at the top, Fresno did not play, but got massive help from the out-of-town scoreboard, it appears. Past opponents 2-1-5 on the weekend, which only sounds moderately impressive (Western teams they haven’t played yet went 1-2-5), but I guess it’s the average points per game across the league dropped somewhat significantly (thanks to the number of draws, which are worth two total points rather than three for a win) which made their past schedule look even more impressive in hindsight? I honestly don’t know what made the number react the way they did. T2 dropped for similar/opposite reasons.
Vegas isn’t quite yet flirting with the point of no return when it comes to remaining in playoff contention, San Antonio is right there unless they find a run of form, and both Colorado Springs and Tacoma are probably past the point of writing the postseason off, unfortunately. I would expect to see a bunch of Sounders next weekend in their squad, though: a test against the best West team, Fresno, can keep the bench players for the senior team sharp.
As you can see, the West has major swings week-to-week for a few of the teams (which reflects a change in form or an unexpected result, for the most part), while the East was more static outside of a couple obvious spots. That’s a reversal of the early season, and may balance out in short order, too.
At long last, there’s (basically) enough data for the pure power ratings to be ready. These ratings, unlike Table Power, are designed to reflect how strong a team’s performances are, rather than how the final table will play out.
The essential concept here is as follows: only the offensive and defensive score matters – the numbers are basically agnostic to what the actual result is in strict W-L-D terms. The goals are compared to the opponent’s average in the given location, and that results in a game score. Teams’ ratings are the averages of all their game scores.
There are still a few teams who are being unkind to the data because they’ve either scored or allowed the same number of goals in each game at a given location (Saint Louis and El Paso have yet to give up a goal on the road, Indy is unscored-upon at home, Hartford has scored exactly one goal in their two home games), so there’s no variance to grade the opponents’ performances yet. In order to get the machine humming, I’ve just given opponents exactly average (zero) grades on that side of the ball for games against those teams.
Zero is average for offense, defense, and total. A team with a 2.0 overall rating would be two standard deviations better than average (by some combination of offensive and defensive quality), 1.0 is a single standard deviation better, etc. Tacoma Defiance is well over two standard deviations worse than average so far this season:
Since I just had to spill a lot of virtual ink explaining the concept, I’ll keep commentary to a minimum for now. HFA is homefield advantage (measured in home score minus road score), so teams with a negative mark are actually performing better on the road so far. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad at home (Nashville has a negative HFA despite a positive home grade), just that they perform better compared to average on the road.
So far this season, the worst individual game score is LA Galaxy II 4-1 loss at a bad Colorado Springs Switchbacks (-3.21 – Loudoun United’s loss to Hartford yesterday was -3.14), best is Nashville SC’s 3-0 road win against Ottawa Fury (+3.20).