USL power ratings: May 27, 2019

Welcome to the USL power ratings! Herein, I’ll give weekly updates on a couple different sets of power ratings. 

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Table Power

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. The goal is to project a final table based on the games already played.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Tampa Bay – 71.87 projected points
  2. Saint Louis (+1) – 69.30 points
  3. Indy (+1) – 64.84 points
  4. Ottawa (-2) – 61.90 points
  5. Nashville (+1) – 60.34 points
  6. NYRB2 (-1) – 59.73 points
  7. North Carolina (+3) – 55.36 points
  8. Charleston Battery (-1) – 51.84 points
  9. Louisville City (-1) – 48.16 points
  10. Pittsburgh (-1) – 45.03 points
  11. Birmingham – 38.85 points
  12. Atlanta 2 – 36.06 points
  13. Bethlehem – 33.54 points
  14. Loudoun – 31.89 points
  15. Memphis – 27.27 points
  16. Charlotte (+1) – 24.30 points
  17. Swope Park (-1) – 23.33 points
  18. Hartford – 14.32 points

It was a draw-tastic week in the East: six out of the nine games played ended with the teams level. That meant moves up for those that actually won (Nashville, North Carolina – Tampa doesn’t have a lot of upward mobility but they also took a victory against Swope Park Rangers), and moves down for the losers (NYRB2, Birmingham Legion, Swope). Beyond that, the shifts are basically in the “was it bad to draw the team you drew against?” genre.

The one for whom said draw was the worst was Ottawa, because that draw came against Hartford. I mentioned last week that I thought Ottawa’s positioning was a little bit of a paper tiger because they had beaten every bad team but lost to basically every good team they’d played… and now they have dropped a game in the former category. Still a very good team, of course, but second on the projected table wasn’t accurately depicting where they should have stood.

Nashville moved up slightly with the only four-point week in the conference. They have two full weeks off from conference play now, so whatever happens with their ranking will be about the out-of-town scoreboard for them (if you’re rooting for the numbers to look good, you want past NSC opponents to beat squads that Nashville hasn’t played yet, a clear winner in games between two past opponents, and a draw between North Carolina and Hartford).

Of course things are continuing to shift week-to-week, but right now the tiers look like so: a top two of Tampa and Saint Louis (I think just about every observer would say that is also what the eyeball test has told us), a four-team cohort below them that’s basically playoff locks and favorites to avoid that opening round, and the 7-10 spots still have a healthy gap on Birmingham. The Legion still looks like the only team below the playoff line to have a chance of crashing the party, but their midweek loss to Nashville prevented them from gaining any ground on Louisville and Pittsburgh (which sagged slightly after draws against Bethlehem and Charlotte, respectively).

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USL West power rankings

    1. Fresno FC – 64.42 projected points
    2. New Mexico – 63.62 points
    3. Portland Timbers 2 – 56.67 points
    4. El Paso – 56.02 points
    5. Phoenix Rising (+2) – 54.18 points
    6. Reno 1868 (-1) – 52.23 points
    7. Rio Grande Valley (+5) – 48.49 points
    8. Tulsa Roughnecks – 48.20 points
    9. OKC Energy – 47.23 points
    10. Austin Bold (-4) – 45.52 points
    11. Orange County (-1) – 43.26 points
    12. Sacramento Republic (+1) – 42.35 points
    13. LA Galaxy II (+1) – 41.24 points
    14. Real Monarchs (-3) – 39.17 points
    15. Las Vegas Lights – 38.67 points
    16. San Antonio – 31.82 points
    17. Colorado Springs – 23.56 points
    18. Tacoma Defiance – 21.84 points

Fresno really dropped the ball on establishing a stranglehold on the West by drawing Tacoma Defiance on the road (and it wasn’t even a situation where a ton of players with MLS minutes dropped down to play for Tacoma). That establishes New Mexico as a serious contender for the crown, and we could have a pretty interesting battle here.

Phoenix continues its climb to get into the range where they were expected to be in preseason (and look at that four-week line: up all the way). RGV, on the other hand, did not have particularly high expectations – art least externally – coming in, but the Toros had a bounceback after beating San Antonio FC to the point where they had been jut a few weeks ago. Seeing whether they can maintain that will be a storyline to follow.

Last week’s crazy logjam cleared itself up somewhat, but positions 7-13 (a range that includes “host play-in game” to “not even particularly sniffing the playoffs”) are still separated by barely more than seven projected points. That’s all enough to change in just one weekend, so we’re still waiting to see what looks like a little bit more-permanent separation between those who seem to be the haves versus have-nots (like we see in the East).

It’s getting late early for San Antonio, Colorado Springs, and Tacoma, who have to see major turnarounds in form (or in the Defiance’s case, a continuation of the form that saw them draw Fresno yesterday) if they want to be remotely in position to make a push for the playoffs by the time the mid-season point arrives.

Pure Power

This ratings method uses goals for/against in each individual game (compared to the opponent’s averages) to determine teams’ overall quality. It’s blind to result but not location or score, making it essentially the opposite metric of the Table Power.

There are still a few teams who have no variation in one area (Saint Louis has allowed exactly zero goals in every road game, Indy has allowed exactly zero in every home game, Hartford has scored exactly one in every home game), so I’ve given opponents exactly average marks in those games for now.

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.

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Tampa Bay’s offense is pedestrian, but it’s better than any other team with a defense in remotely the same stratosphere: Indy’s and El Paso’s offenses are actually quite bad, while Saint Louis’s is around average.

Real Monarchs are your only exciting Chaos Team, with a great offense and pretty poor defense: there are going to be lots of goals in their games (and indeed, their home games average over four combined goals, and away games over three combined goals). It’s perhaps not a coincidence that the Monarchs are one of the week’s big droppers, with a 4-2 loss to Phoenix on the books. Charleston and Fresno join them, but those previously-lofty teams merely suffered draws against poor opposition.

It’s worth noting that Tacoma’s draw against Fresno only brought them within about 0.75 standard deviations of the second-worst team in the league, Loudoun United (hey now, Hartford makin’ moves). They’ve been bad, despite now two decent results at home (the Tacoma Sounders previously beat Sacramento Republic).

The big risers are mostly obvious, such as Phoenix ending up on the other side of that Monarchs result, Atlanta United 2 getting a surprising draw at Charleston, etc. etc. Reno didn’t play but still gained a couple positions, while Tulsa merely draw a bad Las Vegas Lights team and got a significant bump. Most of that is just about the Monarchs and Battery dropping down for their own results, with a little bit of the out-of-town scoreboard turning out to be helpful to them.

Games to watch

New section: games that should have interesting impacts on some of the numbers.

  • PORvSLC (7:00 p.m. PDT Wednesday). Portland’s Championship-best offense and mediocre defense go against a Salt Lake team that is pretty good offensively and very bad defensively. Some fireworks could ensue.
  • INDvPGH (7:00 p.m. EDT Saturday). There has never been a game that has “0-0 draw” written all over it in darker ink than this one. Hopefully that means a surprisingly goal-heavy contest.
  • LOUvCHS (7:00 p.m. EDT Saturday). This is a six-pointer on the cusp of the playoff line at this point. A winner probably starts to get into safe territory – where we expected both these teams to be preseason – while the loser looks to be entering some sort of zone… of danger…
  • TULvAUS (7:00 p.m. CDT Saturday). This is similar to the above, but with a West that has many more contenders near the playoff line, the loser could actually drop out of projected playoff positions. Still plenty of season, but it would make for an uphill climb, for sure.

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