USL power ratings: Sept. 30, 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. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (+1) – 66.09 projected points
  2. Indy Eleven (-1) – 62.72 points
  3. Tampa Bay Rowdies (+1) – 62.60 points
  4. Nashville SC (+1) – 62.30 points
  5. New York Red Bulls II (-2) – 61.83 points
  6. Louisville City – 57.65 points
  7. North Carolina FC (+1) – 53.01 points
  8. Ottawa Fury (-1) – 51.92 points
  9. Saint Louis FC – 46.65 points
  10. Charleston Battery – 46.31 points
  11. Birmingham Legion – 45.94 points
  12. Memphis 901 – 38.35 points
  13. Bethlehem Steel – 34.84 points
  14. Atlanta United 2 – 33.62 points
  15. Charlotte Independence – 32.51 points
  16. Loudoun United – 30.68 points
  17. Swope Park Rangers – 25.95 points
  18. Hartford Athletic – 24.52 points

the East has generally been pretty uninteresting at the top, but the last few weeks have really thrown things into the mixer. Indy Eleven and New York Red Bulls II are bound and determined to not hold onto their advantage at the top, while Pittsburgh Riverhounds have seen the open door and marched right through it. With a game in-hand, they’re currently tied with Nashville at the top of the table, and the Hounds are projected to win the East by more than three points.

Of course, very little has seemed to go as expected in that area of the chart lately (which is good and fun – favorites going essentially wire-to-wire is boring), so we shall see what happens. There are only five remaining games between teams projected in the top eight (Nashville is the only team with two – hosting Louisville and North Carolina next week), so if there’s to be major shakeup again, it’ll have to come via massive upset.

The race for that final playoff spot didn’t change much – Saint Louis drew Atlanta, Charleston drew New York, and Birmingham doesn’t play until tonight – but it remains extremely tight. Even though beating Swope is essentially the expectation of the formula, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Legion FC back in the top 10 if they take care of business in Kansas City this evening.

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Zoom me in, bro!

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USL West power ratings

  1. Phoenix Rising – 77.27 projected points
  2. Fresno FC – 63.43 points
  3. Reno 1868 – 58.23 points
  4. Austin Bold (+2) – 50.87 points
  5. Orange County (-1) – 50.21 points
  6. Sacramento Republic (-1) – 49.75 points
  7. Real Monarchs (+1) – 49.53 points
  8. LA Galaxy II (+1) – 48.80 points
  9. New Mexico United (-2) – 48.38 points
  10. El Paso Locomotive – 48.13 points
  11. San Antonio FC – 46.07 points
  12. Portland Timbers 2 – 42.48 points
  13. Las Vegas Lights (+1) – 41.59 points
  14. OKC Energy (-1) – 41.16 points
  15. Rio Grande Valley – 37.80 points
  16. Tulsa Roughnecks – 34.06 points
  17. Colorado Springs Switchbacks – 25.99 points
  18. Tacoma Defiance – 24.22 points

A second straight non-win for Phoenix means the Rising definitely sucks now, right? No? OK. They are at risk of no longer setting the regular-season points record, currently standing at 77 from last year’s FC Cincinnati squad. Phoenix needs to win two of its final three games to set said record, and with a couple pretty easy ones (home against Portland, at OKC), have to imagine they’ll be able to do it if they want to – but I wouldn’t begrudge a decision to focus on the playoffs and take whatever comes in those contests, either.

Somehow, week after week, the 4-11 spots get even closer, and while I guess I’m technically eliminating 12 and 13 from playoff contention in saying that (and thus the group we’ve been discussing for weeks has actually gotten smaller), things remain extremely tight. The formula is all-but ready to swear off San Antonio, even, with more than two points separating them from that 10 spot, but given this method is blind to home-away splits (and they host one of the worst away teams in Vegas, while traveling to one of the worst home teams in Colorado Springs), there’s still a chance they close that gap.

Either way, projected 4.8 points separates “second round playoff game” from “not even in the playoffs.” Even just to go from first-round bye (No. 6) to one of the two teams traveling in what is effectively a play-in round (Nos. 9 and 10) is barely over a single projected point.

This was an even wilder week than in the East, with San Antonio losing to an awful Tulsa team mid-week and rebounding to beat Fresno(!) over the weekend, RGV upsetting Orange County, Phoenix dropping points to New Mexico (with NMU fighting for its playoff life here, it must be noted), El Paso beating Sacramento, etc. etc. If you’re an Eastern Conference fan who doesn’t watch much of the West, I encourage you to “check it out.”

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.

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Pittsburgh’s midweek win over Memphis was fine or whatever, but then the Riverhounds blasted Indy Eleven to make a nice climb up the table, becoming second-best in the East (to go along with their new projection to finish atop the table). Red Bull falls a couple spots for a home draw against Charleston.

North Carolina smacked Ottawa, moving those teams in opposite directions (though it must be noted that I’ve thought Ottawa sort of games the numbers – not that it’s their intention, specifically – by running it up on really weak opponents, so they’ve looked better to the system than they actually are).

Birmingham drops a couple spots despite not playing mostly because Memphis (5-0 winners over Bethlehem – talk about being flat-track bullies) and RGV (the aforementioned win over OC) moved past them, not because they really moved down.

Salt Lake City makes a big climb for a win at Reno, LA Galaxy a modest bump for a 5-1 blasting of OKC Energy (with a big according drop for OKC), and Atlanta’s win against Indy Eleven was enough to pull them out of the depths of the league, even if the later draw against Saint Louis over the weekend was fine-not-special.

There are honestly too many deltas here (usually there are only maybe a dozen yellow and purple boxes there – and that’s earlier in the year, when each game is a greater proportion of a team’s resume, and thus affects the numbers more) for me to even comprehend what a wild week it truly was.

Positions locked

Rank numbers in PPG, table sorted by max possible points.

We’re really starting to get some clarity here in the East especially, with only seven teams alive for the top spot, and all but the last two slots in the playoffs pretty much locked in.

Only three teams have been officially eliminated after Atlanta’s big week, but they’re any dropped points (or any Birmingham draw – as soon as tonight – or Charleston win) away from elimination. Six teams have sealed their playoff spots.

In the West, Phoenix remains locked into first, only the top three have technically clinched their berths, and only the bottom three are officially eliminated. That murky middle continues to do what it does, I guess.

Games to watch

  • #SPRvBHM (7:00 p.m. CDT Monday). Birmingham needs this result to stay realistically alive for the playoffs. Indeed, a victory probably projects them into the nine spot, while a loss probably makes life extremely difficult for them in the stretch run (and a draw doesn’t make things simple, either). It’s as close to a must-win as you’ll see.
    Numbers say: Swope Park Rankgers 1.76, Birmingham Legion 2.31
  • #LDNvPIT (7:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday). Loudoun has been playing better soccer lately, but rarely been rewarded for it (they have also had some clunkers blended in, in fairness). If they can get a result against the Riverhounds, the other teams in the top five will thank them for keeping the East race attatinable.
    Numbers say: Loudoun United 1.61, Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2.30
  • #OTTvIND (7:00 p.m. EDT Wednesday). indy is the only team in the top four that’s not locked ahead of Ottawa, with the Fury capable of getting to 57 points while the Eleven currently sit on 56. Even a draw would seal Indy ahead, but like the Loudoun United game, the other top teams in the East are certainly Fury fans in this one.
    Numbers say: Ottawa Fury 1.48, Indy Eleven 1.11
  • #ELPvFRS (7:00 p.m. MDT Wednesday). El Paso has, at times this year, been one of the top teams in the West. Now they face a key game to remain projected in the playoff field. A draw against Fresno is probably enough to make them feel safe, while a win – and let’s not kid ourselves, the way the West has been going lately, one seems likely – would all-but seal things up.
    Numbers say: New York Red Bulls II 2.24, Charleston Battery 0.67
  • #LDNvTBR (7:30 p.m. EDT Friday). Another game in which Loudoun can help out the New Yorks, Nashvilles, and Indys of the world.
    Numbers say: Loudoun United 1.15, Tampa Bay Rowdies 2.37
  • SLCvAUS (1:00 p.m. MDT Saturday). Real Monarchs are angling for that first-round playoff bye – though honestly, I think the sweet spot for an MLS2 side is the 7 or 8 slot: host a home game in the first round, travel in the second, and whatever happens happens. Their goal is to give young guys meaningful single-elimination games more importantly than it is to win the championship (though certainly they’d love to do that, as well). Meanwhile, Austin currently occupies that last second-round home-game slot, but hasn’t been particularly Bold on the road this year. Austin is projected much higher in the table, but the team-strength numbers are far more into the Salt Lake lifestyle.
    Numbers say: Real Monarchs SLC 2.88, Austin Bold 1.00
  • #BHMvCHS (7:00 p.m. CDT Saturday). This is a playoff six-pointer. If either team can be the clear winner, there’s a major leg up on the other (and on Saint Louis FC) for one of those final two playoff spots that they’re competing with each other for. In terms of implications on the table, this is almost certainly the game of the week. For entertainment value… the numbers don’t love it.
    Numbers say: Birmingham Legion 0.59, Charleston Battery 0.75
  • #BSTvCLT (7:00 p.m. EDT Sunday). These teams will probably both be out of playoff contention by kickoff (Charlotte already is, Bethlehem is a couple out-of-town results away), but it’s the only Sunday game, so how about some love for the true crappy teams?
    Numbers say: Bethlehem Steel 1.41, Charlotte Independence 1.56

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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