mls Nashville SC

MLS Power Ratings: Sept. 25, 2020

Longtime readers may recall a past feature wherein I let a computer spit out some numbers, and rank the MLS teams based upon those numbers. The nature of the 2020 schedule (and 2020 generally) has meant that’s not a possibility this year – at least not until recently. Without further ado, the first edition of the MLS Power Ratings for 2020:

A quick methodology note (non-nerds, feel free to skip): each team’s ratings are an average of individual game scores. Those individual game scores compare the performance to what the average team has done against that opponent this season. So if Vancouver loses its average home game 2.8-2.0 – as is currently the case – scoring more than 2.8 is a good offensive performance, allowing fewer than 2.0 is a good defensive performance, and so on. Each offensive and defensive performance is a Z-score, and the two are added together to give the game score. Essentially, the point of the exercise is to adjust outcomes for strength of opposition).

A second quick note: American Soccer Analysis doesn’t include own-goals in its game table. The G Scores should be “what happened on the pitch” rather than “what you deserves to have happen” (the latter is represented by xG Scores), but for the sake of being able to use a consistent data source, and not having to do a bunch of research each gameweek, the data will stick with the ASA table.

As things stand right now, the Seattle Sounders are the top-performing team in Major League Soccer, while their Cascadia rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps are (by far) the worst.

Columbus Crew comes in just third in Expected Goals Power Ratings (the most meaningful number here), but is making the most of its opportunities, and outperforming its xG by a comfortable margin to put forth the best results so far this season. Montreal Impact is similarly overachieving right now, but that takes the results-based ranking from pitiful to average. The unluckiest team in MLS has been LAFC (though they’d benefit if own-goals were included, so they haven’t been quite as unlucky as it seems), a borderline elite team in xG terms that is well below-average in results.

Let us hop into a look at that luck factor:

There’s roughly a downward slope here (which makes sense – there’s more room for bad teams to overachieve, and more room for good teams to underachieve – a bit of regression to the mean there), with Columbus and Philadelphia – good teams overachieving – outliers in the high end.

Let’s look at how teams’ offenses and defenses are performing thus far:

It’s all bad for Vancouver, Montreal, and DC right now. It’s all good for Columbus, SKC, and Seattle.

Interestingly for our purposes on this site, Nashville SC’s offense is below average… but not as far as you might expect. The Boys in Gold have one of the league’s elite defenses (though opponents are converting at a slightly better rate than expected), and the offense is more about lack of conversion than a lack of creation – not that I’m breaking any news here, of course. The offense wouldn’t suddenly be elite with even above-average finishing, but it would be plenty good enough to pair with that defense.

The “Last Week” column in the top chart is actually “last season” for all but Nashville and Miami, so it ends up being an interesting look at who has improved (and who has very much not, San Jose) since the 2019 campaign.

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