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What Went Wrong: Costly One-Goal Games Hurt Republic in 2015

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In the second installment of his What Went Wrong series, Evan Eyster takes a look at how much Sacramento Republic's 2015 season was hurt by close one-goal losses.

Photo Credit: Sacramento Republic FC/Douglas Taylor

There is nothing like the nail biting finish of pulling out a one goal victory, and no pain like watching a last minute attack slip away in a one goal defeat. Unfortunately for Sacramento Republic fans, they saw more of the latter than the former last season.

In 2015, Sacramento won only 5 of their 11 games that were decided by a single goal. This 45% win percentage in one goal games left them tied with Pittsburgh Riverhounds for 15th best of 24 teams across USL, only finishing ahead of one playoff team, Louisville City FC (who won 3 of 7 games decided by one goal). However, the big difference comes when you compare the 2015 Republic team to the 2014 version.

In 2014, Sacramento won six more one goal games than they lost, meaning in 2015 they had a seven game swing (+6 to -1) in these close games. That is a stunning 21 points fewer gained in 2015 in games that were decided by one goal. Only one team in all of USL had a harder drop from 2014 to 2015, and that was the Wilmington Hammerheads, who had a +3 spread in 2014 only to lose 8 games by one goal in 2015.

If we want to indulge in a mild adjustment and suppose that teams in a longer sample would revert towards the norm by drawing half of their games that were decided by one goal (Sacramento has a -1 spread, so drawing half of that one net loss increases their total by +0.5), the playoff picture in the West would have been shaken up.

This proves to me that Sacramento simply finished below the norm, when even an adjustment that all teams revert to a near even split of results in one goal games is enough to put them at the top of the table in a close Western Conference.

Using binomial distribution, which is a method for determining number of successes (in this case wins) in a sample size, we see that a team that would win 50% of its one goal games in the long term would still finish with the results of Sacramento just under 30% of the time. Under this adjustment, the first round byes would have been taken by Sacramento Republic and Colorado Springs Switchbacks, who both would have been at 46.5 points. Orange County Blues and Oklahoma City Energy would have shared the 3rd seed with 45.5 points apiece, while LA would remain in 5th and Seattle in 6th with the minor point adjustment.

It is possible to beat the odds, but I do not think that Sacramento really regressed in this case. Sacramento was simply unlucky.  Bad runs happen, favorites lose. With Sacramento winning 62% of their games that resulted in one team or another taking all three points, you can easily argue that they would win at least 50% of one goal games.  While this is something that needs to be monitored moving forward with more game planning of how to respond to being down a goal in the last 15 minutes of the game, I am not overly concerned about the regression in this category.

This was the second part of at three part series looking at what went wrong for Sacramento Republic in 2015. In the final part of the series, I will be looking at the difference from 2014 to 2015 in regard to Sacramento's winning and losing streaks.