USL power ratings: Sept. 2, 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 ratings:

  1. Indy Eleven – 67.66 projected points
  2. New York Red Bulls II – 67.07 points
  3. Tampa Bay Rowdies – 65.15 points
  4. Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 63.19 points
  5. Nashville SC – 62.81 points
  6. North Carolina FC – 56.73 points
  7. Ottawa Fury – 56.13 points
  8. Louisville City – 55.15 points
  9. Charleston Battery – 45.52 points
  10. Birmingham Legion – 44.52 points
  11. Saint Louis FC – 39.63 points
  12. Bethlehem Steel (+1) – 35.67 points
  13. Loudoun United (+1) – 34.40 points
  14. Charlotte Independence (-2) – 33.87 points
  15. Memphis 901 – 30.82 points
  16. Atlanta United 2 – 25.98 points
  17. Hartford Athletic – 24.63 points
  18. Swope Park Rangers – 22.02 points

It was an extremely chalk-ish weekend in the East, with even the upsets (such as they were) having only minimal impact on the order of the teams.

Nashville over Tampa brought the top five closer together, but those teams were already similar enough in the ratings that the ranking order didn’t change (with Pittsburgh’s win over Ottawa keeping the Hounds between those two sides). Loudoun’s win over North Carolina wasn’t enough to bump NCFC down (again, with Ottawa’s loss helping out), though it did shake things up just a bit near the bottom of the table.

Let’s pop down there for a sec, because we’re getting pretty close to knowing who will and will not have the chance to make a late-season run. Saint Louis, Bethlehem, Loudoun (all helped by wins, though only Loudon’s came as any surprise) probably still have an outside shot at that No. 10 position with a good run of form to end the year. Birmingham and Loudoun did that group a solid with mid-week draws against members of it. Meanwhile, the teams below them are pretty locked-in. The order may change (Atlanta is probably the worst overall team in the East, but capable of playing well in fits and starts, while Hartford plays some decent ball lately, but dug itself such a massive hole early in the year), but those guys and Memphis are probably the bottom four.

Back to the top! Indy and Pittsburgh have played fewer games than the teams around them so there’s a wider range of potential variation in where their final point totals end up. Nashville and NCFC have the most games played, so they’re less variable (it’s not clinched by any stretch, but it’s reasonable to say NCFC’s dreams of an conference semi playoff game are approaching kaput).

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Nos. 4-18 zoom-in.

USL West power ratings

  1. Phoenix Rising – 77.61 projected points
  2. Fresno FC – 62.45 points
  3. Reno 1868 – 57.75 points
  4. Austin Bold – 52.09 points
  5. Real Monarchs (+1) – 49.05 points
  6. Sacramento Republic (-1) – 47.65 points
  7. Orange County (+4) – 47.51 points
  8. OKC Energy (+1) – 45.93 points
  9. LA Galaxy II (+3) – 45.86 points
  10. El Paso Locomotive – 45.82 points
  11. New Mexico United (-4) – 45.63 points
  12. Portland Timbers 2 (+1) – 45.40 points
  13. San Antonio FC (-5) – 44.14 points
  14. Las Vegas Lights – 40.59 points
  15. Rio Grande Valley – 36.90 points
  16. Tulsa Roughnecks (+1) – 31.16 points
  17. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (-1) – 28.62 points
  18. Tacoma Defiance – 27.69 points

While the East continues its boring track, the West is back to being the Wild, Wild version thereof, y’all. I had to include two graphical representations of the table (with the second a zoomed-in middle of the pack) just so you could see what’s going on in the important part: Nos. 4-13 are still separated by less than eight points… that’s hosting a second round playoff game and not even sniffing the playoffs separated by about one good week of action for any given team.

Austin took care of business against Rio Grande Valley last night, or it could have been even wilder, but as things stand, Bold FC is in position to try to make a run at Reno for the “avoid Phoenix in the conference semis” spot, thanks to both Fresno and Reno giving up ground (losses to Tulsa and Reno, two teams who didn’t move into playoff projections despite those massive wins!).

Orange County was a big riser and New Mexico a big faller not because of some incredible upset, but rather because the standings are really tight in that range. Same with LA Galaxy’s rise (though they passed fewer teams, and Sacramento Republic fell below fewer).

San Antonio… wyd. After a solid several-week run to turn from one of the more-disappointing USL teams into a safe-ish playoff side (as safe as the volatility over here allows), they got smacked by Tacoma Defiance. The margin of victory isn’t taken into account in this ratings, fortunately for SAFC, but this also wasn’t a full Tacoma Sounders-type team, either. They just got blasted by a mediocre-to-poor side.

Pure Power

This ratings method uses scoring 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 Table Power. Zero is average for offense, defense, and total. A team with a 2.0 overall rating would be two standard deviations better than average, 1.0 is a single standard deviation better, etc.

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With a 5-1 win, Tacoma is no longer the worst team in all USL! Atlanta United takes over the ignominious distinction (and they’ve probably been the worst for a while, in all practical terms).

There were a lot of shakeups around the USL with some major swings. Pittsburgh’s win over Ottawa wasn’t a big deal… except when you take into account that it was a 4-0 blasting. Loudoun’s win over North Carolina FC was going to be a big deal either way, but it also ended with a 4-0 margin.

There’s enough stratification between teams – especially at this point in the season, where one individual game represents like 4% of the résumé – that the movements can include a major change in the power rating without too many positions shifting in the rankings. Despite a huge loss, for example, North Carolina is still really far from the next spot down, since Fresno is far behind them in the raw numbers.

Orange County moves up and New Mexico down for the aforementioned result between them, while RGV’s drop by four spots for losing by three to Austin (not a horrible result for a low-table team) is partially about congestion in that portion of the chart.

Positions locked

We’re starting to see a little bit more of settling in both conferences:

Ranked by PPG, sorted by maximum points possible

Phoenix punched its playoff ticket, while only Fresno and Reno join them as locks to finish outside last place (with Colorado guaranteed to finish behind them). That says a lot about how much better Phoenix is than the other teams at the top of the table, as well as just generally better than the rest of the conference.

It also says that the conference is pretty bunched up (you know, that thing I’ve spent much of this post describing). with even Tacoma still technically alive for the No. 2 spot out West.

In the East, we should see our first playoff clinchings this week, with both New York Red Bulls and Nashville possibilities with a win and a tiny bit of help on the out-of-town scoreboard. Indy has two games, and if both go well, they’re a possibility (though the best they can do this week is match NYRBII’s current 53 points, so they’d need more help around the East).

Games to watch

  • #INDvNY (7:00 p.m. EDT Wednesday). This game will be crucial to determining the Eastern Conference champion. If Red Bulls win, I have a hard time seeing anyone beat them out. If Indy wins, they’re close to that status as well (though they have more games left to potentially screw it up). A draw – knowing Indy, the most likely outcome – would give Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Nashville an opening.
    Numbers say: Indy Eleven 1.34, New York Red Bulls II 0.71
  • #STLvOTT (7:00 p.m. CDT Wednesday). Saint Louis’s fairly epic slide got a bit of a cessation with a close win over Hartford Sunday… but they’re right back at it Wednesday (and then Saturday), with basically every game for the rest of the year a must-win to get back into the playoff mix. Meanwhile, any dropped points for Ottawa could mean no first-round bye in the playoffs.
    Numbers say: Saint Louis FC 1.46, Ottawa Fury 1.47
  • #SLCvLVL (7:00 p.m. MDT Wednesday). Real Monarchs are near the top of the peloton, while Vegas is juuuust outside of it. Since the Lights are horrifically bad away from home, this may not be a contest either way… but an upset here would change the picture in the West nonetheless.
    Numbers say: Real Monarchs SLC 3.37, Las Vegas Lights 0.67
  • #NCvBST (7:00 p.m. EDT Saturday). North Carolina’s mediocre run of recent form has mostly plagued them away from WakeMed Soccer Park, but if Bethlehem wants to challenge for one of those final playoff spots, this is one of just a few opportunities remaining with a tough slate to close the year.
    Numbers say: North Carolina FC 2.31, Bethlehem Steel 1.00
  • #PGHvLOU (7:00 p.m. EDT Saturday). Pittsburgh and Louisville are both in that 4-8 range in the projected table. The Riverhounds have been volatile recently (a five-goal loss and a four-goal win within their past three results), while Louisville has rounded into a bit of form after starting out weak.
    Numbers say: Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1.73, Louisville City FC 1.59
  • #RNOvFRS (7:00 p.m. PDT Saturday). Losses for both teams last week took a bit of bloom off the rose of an otherwise colossal Western Conference matchup. Still, they’re battling for that second overall spot in the West. Coincidentally, both of these teams are better away from home, which could play into the hands of a Fresno team that’s also better overall.
    Numbers say: Reno 1868 FC 1.58, Fresno FC 1.68
  • #PORvOC (2:00 p.m. PDT Saturday). Portland is hanging around the fringes of playoff contention… a situation Orange County knows well, having been in a similar spot just last week. A clear winner here could provide some middle-of-table separation, but knowing the West, that’s just dreamin’. It’s worth noting Portland has by far the worst homefield advantage in USL (could that change after the MLS roster lock deadline, though?).
    Numbers say: Portland Timbers 2 1.47, Orange County SC 1.76
  • #OKCvNMU (6:00 p.m. CDT Sunday). These are two teams going in the wrong direction. OKC started the year strong, was awful for a while, and is back on the right side of things. New Mexico was easily the best team in the West in late Spring, but has probably been among the worst since – the post-US Open Cup rebound has not come to fruition, either.
    Numbers say: OKC Energy 1.53, New Mexico United 1.76

As every week, thanks for reading. Feel free to share the power ratings to spread the good word of statistical analysis in USL.

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