USL power ratings: June 10, 2019

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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 Rowdies – 70.07 projected points
  2. Indy Eleven (+1) – 68.55 points
  3. NYRB2 (+1) – 64.23 points
  4. Ottawa Fury (+1) – 60.90 points
  5. Nashville (+1) – 60.59 points
  6. North Carolina (+2) – 58.90 points
  7. Saint Louis (-5) – 57.82 points
  8. Louisville City (-1) – 53.28 points
  9. Charleston Battery – 51.10 points
  10. Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 42.48 points
  11. Birmingham Legion – 34.84 points
  12. Atlanta United 2 – 34.46 points
  13. Loudoun United (+1) – 34.30 points
  14. Bethlehem Steel (-1) – 30.98 points
  15. Memphis 901 – 26.43 points
  16. Hartford Athletic (+2) – 23.82 points
  17. Charlotte Independence – 22.88 points
  18. Swope Park Rangers (-2) – 20.67 points

It was a wild weekend at the top of the East, with Tampa Bay Rowdies taking their first loss – and at home, which is wild given the club’s history of being great in St. Pete and horrible on the road – Hartford Athletic not only winning, but beating a team that had been very close to the top of the league in Saint Louis FC, and Pittsburgh (OK, I’m stretching the definition of “top” here) missing a stoppage-time penalty kick to settle for a draw with Ottawa Fury. STLFC goes down, down, down, and Tampa loses a significant portion of its cushion at the top of the league, but is still No. 1.

Indy, Red Bull, Nashville, Louisville, and Charleston took care of business against teams in the bottom half of the table, and their movement is mostly more about who shifted around them rather than a whole lot learned of those teams.

Indy is starting to look like the team we expected in preseason from a results perspective, at least: they’re not often pretty doing it, but the Eleven are getting the job done home and road against whomever they face, good or bad, and that’s all you can ask of them. Maybe you could ask for their high-profile offseason signings to score a bit more, but hey, they’re winning (or drawing).

We’re really settling into the tiers I’ve identified for the past couple weeks – with some obvious shifting available, a la Saint Louis – and if current form holds true enough, there looks to be a pretty hard line between the playoff positions and those squads missing out. That’s not fate, of course: Pittsburgh was in range of being caught by Birmingham just this weekend, and there’s still enough season that Tampa Bay could theoretically finish 45 points behind Hartford Athletic, but that dividing line has been consistent for several weeks now, and it would take a change in form to see anyone’s playoff projection (in or our) change.

Speaking of Hartford, though, hey! Huge win for Athletic, which is now 1-1-3 (0.8 points per game) at home, and looking like a second-half run is possible when their home games start to pile up. They’re coming from a deep, deep position, but they’re one team whose current form could see them shoot up the table if it continues.

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USL West power rankings

    1. El Paso Locomotive (+1) – 62.17 points
    2. Phoenix Rising (+4) – 59.02 points
    3. New Mexico United (-2) – 58.77 projected points
    4. Portland Timbers 2 (-1) – 57.72 points
    5. Fresno FC – 54.72 projected points
    6. Sacramento Republic (+4) – 53.76 points
    7. Reno 1868 (-3) – 51.49 points
    8. Austin Bold (-1) – 50.37 points
    9. OKC Energy (-1) – 47.93 points
    10. Orange County (-1) – 45.95 points
    11. Real Monarchs (+3) – 42.26 points
    12. Tulsa Roughnecks (-1) – 40.77 points
    13. Rio Grande Valley (-1) – 38.69 points
    14. Las Vegas Lights (+1) – 36.85 points
    15. LA Galaxy II (-2) – 36.52 points
    16. San Antonio (+1) – 35.00 points
    17. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (-1) – 34.66 points
    18. Tacoma Defiance – 19.16 points

Meanwhile out West, Saturday evening somehow managed to be almost as crazy as it was in the East: previous No. 1 New Mexico was thrashed at home by Sacramento, a struggling San Antonio knocked off Reno, Real Monarchs and Rio Grande Valley played an eight goal game, and there was plenty of shakeup top to (second-)bottom. The West was stable to an almost annoying degree early in the season, and it’s making the hell up for lost time.

Meanwhile, Phoenix took the field a night earlier than most of their USL brethren, and while they’ve been sliding up the table in workmanlike fashion recently, they hit the accelerator for a 5-0 win. Yes, it was against a Tulsa team that’s clearly trending down, but a Phoenix team that underachieved to start the year and had quietly righted the ship will be quiet no more.

It’s El Paso they’ll be chasing now, with one expansion team replacing another atop the table. Something tells me they will not be the last team to occupy the No. 1 spot.

As for the playoff race out West, I would say based on current form (and with the caveat that this side of things has been more prone to wild swings lately) that Sacramento is in the last “safely in” playoff position with nearly 12 points separating them from 11th place. It’s worth noting the Republic was 10th literally last week though, so again, it’s too early to make sweeping statements with any expectation they’ll hold true for long.

It is worth noting that the West – while more volatile – has played a little bit more of its schedule so far this season: 32.8% of games are completed, compared to 31.9% in the East. While the boys on the right side of the Mississippi seems to have more stability in form, those on the left are closer to the actual endpoint of the season. You can largely blame weather (five games have been abandoned and rescheduled for later in the year, all of them in the Eastern Conference), and the East probably won’t catch up until September,

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.

Saint Louis’s loss to Hartford eliminated the final two statistical quirks (STLFC zero road goals allowed, Hartford exactly one goal in every home game), so the data are now robust – though it’s worth noting that there remains a small-if-valid sample size in a couple spots.

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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Thanks to Tampa not only losing, but doing so convincingly – along with their own convincing win – Phoenix Rising takes over the top spot in strength. The offense and defense are both borderline elite (this is one of the more balanced teams out there), and the results are also finally breaking their way – as you can see in the table power above.

Other major swings include an understandable slide for New Mexico United after a draw to OKC and a 3-0 home loss to Sacramento (and down the table, the Republic’s corresponding rise), North Carolina earning the positive end of Tampa’s minor fall from grace, Colorado Springs making big gainz by doing what is expected against Tacoma, Saint Louis and Hartford getting opposite ends of the same result…

…and weirdly, Ottawa moving way up after drawing Pittsburgh? Winning at Highmark is darn near impossible, and earning a draw there against the Riverhounds is very good. But to move up three spots on that result is a little odd. Has to be a combination of that result and the out-of-town scoreboard (New Mexico and Saint Louis both did their respective parts). Both the table power and pure power metrics like Ottawa more than makes sense to me, so I guess we’ll see over the course of the year if the computers have outsmarted the humans.

Games to watch

Here are the games that should have interesting impacts on some of the numbers.

  • #TBRvCHS (6:30 p.m. EDT Saturday). Will Tampa bounce back, or can a strong Charleston team (albeit one that struggled early in the year) continue the Rowdies’ extremely long one-game losing streak? Tampa has been poor at home so far while Charleston has been a bad road team. Numbers say: Tampa 2.00, Charleston 0.44
  • #CLTvBHM (7:00 p.m. EDT Saturday). If Birmingham is to stay in spitting distance of the playoff positions, it would behoove the Legion to take care of games against the dregs of the table. If they lose this one, things begin to look extremely dicey for a bounceback. Numbers say: Charlotte 2.29, Birmingham 2.69
  • #TULvELP (7:30 p.m. CDT Saturday). Ladies and Gentlemen, your current conference leaders in table power, expansion El Paso Locomotive! A tricky road game against a Tulsa team that’s been good at home could be just the game to keep our churn at the top of the West, uh, churning. Numbers say: Tulsa 0.64, El Paso 0.64(!)
  • #HRTvNSH (3:00 p.m. EDT Sunday). Hartford is not America’s Greatest Home Team, but compared to how they perform on the road, Athletic are extremely good at Rentschler Field. A bottom-top matchup with teams at opposite ends of the table only describes this game in the most technical of senses. Numbers say: Hartford 1.14, Nashville 1.76
  • #PORvFRS  (2:00 p.m. PDT Sunday). As things currently stand in the volatile Western Conference, Portland is in position to host a second-round playoff game while Fresno is on the other side of that 4/5 line. Both teams are better on the road than they are at home. There’s some serious intrigue here.

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