After a wild week in the USL, the strength of schedule projected playoffs are back. These standings take into account the number of points a team gains per outing, and the number of points gained by their opponents per outing.
By comparing the strength of the opponents that a team has played to the strength of opponents that a team will play, I theorize that you can more accurately predict the results of a team than simply extrapolating a single team's points gained per game.
Saint Louis FC is an extreme example. They have gained 1.21 points per game this season, and have played an opponent who on average gains 1.36 points per game. For their remaining games, they play an opponent who on average gains 1.64 points per game. By dividing the opponents' points per game to date by expected future points gained per game, you obtain 0.83, which is multiplied against the Saint Louis points gained per game to get 1.00. This is the number of points per game Saint Louis is expected to obtain for the remainder of the season.
When you run that method for all the teams in the USL, here are your expected standings at the end of the season. Here are last week's rankings if you want to compare.
Western Conference Strength of Schedule Projected Standings:
1 (Last Week - 1) Oklahoma City Energy (51.4)
The Energy held onto the projected top spot with a win over the struggling Roughnecks. A midweek match at a slumping Switchbacks side can give Oklahoma City their first quality win midweek before returning home to host Tulsa once again over the weekend.
2 (2) Sacramento Republic (49.8)
Sacramento was able to absorb a large amount of pressure and score four goals in back to back games while extending their unbeaten streak to five games. This week they travel south to play the Blues midweek before heading back to Bonney Field to avenge a road loss to Vancouver this weekend.
3 (4) Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (49.6)
Vancouver exploded for three goals late to come back and take down Arizona, stopping their winless streak from reaching five games in the process. A trip to Sacramento this week will have major playoff seeding implications at the top of the West.
4 (6) Rio Grande Valley Toros (48.3)
The Toros remain a tough team to score on, now riding eight straight shutouts after managing to keep a ten man Switchbacks team off the scoreboard for the second half. They will get a second shot at the Switchbacks on Saturday, this time in Texas.
5 (3) Los Angeles Galaxy II (46.0)
Los Dos have now earned only one point in their last four games. A trip to Swope Park will have the Galaxy trying to fight their way back to the top and the Rangers trying to fight for the final playoff spot.
6 (5) Colorado Springs Switchbacks (45.0)
The Switchbacks have dropped to the bottom of the top six pack in the West with only two wins in their last ten games. Although that drop hurts, what hurts more is that Colorado Springs have been unable to score more than one goal in fourteen straight games after hitting that mark in six of their first ten. A revenge match against the Toros can move them back up the table.
7 (10) San Antonio FC (41.8)
San Antonio took a revenge win over Arizona and took advantage of stumbles by other teams to jump up to the top of the playoff bubble pack. A successful trip to Saint Louis can help cement San Antonio as a favorite to make the post season.
8 (9) Orange County Blues (40.1)
With their 2-0 win last week, the Blues took the season series against Los Dos for the first time in club history. As if that wasn't good enough, the win also put them on the correct side of the playoff bubble. This week Orange County will host sudden offensive juggernaut, Sacramento Republic FC.
9 (8) Swope Park Rangers (39.7)
Swope Park overcame a defensive error that gifted Saint Louis a goal to earn a late draw, which stopped them from losing too much ground in the playoff race. They will host a slumping Los Dos side this week in their second of five straight home matches. A good home run can push the Rangers into the postseason.
10 (7) Arizona United (38.3)
Arizona had a tough week after falling in San Antonio and collapsing in the final ten minutes in Vancouver. They will look ahead to a game against the Real Monarchs and hope that last week was just a hiccup that will not cost them a chance at the playoffs.
11 (11) Real Monarchs (37.2)
The Monarchs had a bye week but did not lose ground in the playoff hunt, though they will need to put together a strong run of play to make it in. A match against an AZU team that is projected to finish immediately above them in the table will be pivotal for the Monarchs to have a shot.
12 (12) Saint Louis FC (35.0)
Saint Louis let a win get away from them late at Swope Park. They cannot afford a repeat performance when they host San Antonio this week, as losing points to another team in the playoff hunt may end their hope to qualify for the first time in club history.
13 (13) Seattle Sounders 2 (33.3)
After making a strong run, Seattle's momentum has come to a grinding halt after being outscored 8-1 over their last three matches. They will need to turn things around quickly or they will miss the postseason for the first time in club history.
14 (14) Portland Timbers 2 (31.1)
Portland was blown out on the road in Sacramento, but managed to put a large number of shots on goal. While a playoff berth is nearly unobtainable at this point for the Timbers, they can still have an effect on who makes the playoffs and on seeding moving forward.
15 (15) Tulsa Roughnecks (22.4)
Tulsa has now suffered three consecutive shutouts, but was able to absorb pressure well against the Energy. They now travel to Oklahoma City in a chance for revenge that can disrupt the top of the table.
Eastern Conference Strength of Schedule Projected Standings:
1 (1 - Last Week) New York Red Bulls II (64.5)
A penalty kick was all it took for the Red Bulls to beat Louisville, giving them a record of 4-0-0 all time against one of the top clubs in the East. New York is the team to beat right now and, barring a late season collapse, they should take the top seed in the USL.
2 (3) FC Cincinnati (57.5)
Cincinnati did not play, but was able to jump past Louisville in the projected final standings as New York continued to be kryptonite in the battle for second place in the East. A home rematch against a Rochester Rhinos team that beat Cincinnati earlier in the season is up this week in what may be a preview of things to come in the playoffs.
3 (2) Louisville City FC (55.9)
Louisville continues to be unable to figure out New York. With only five points in their last six games, they is slumping at the wrong time, much like what happened last season. Next up this week is a Bethlehem Steel team that is hoping to keep the faintest of playoff hopes alive.
4 (6) Charlotte Independence (49.7)
Charlotte has quietly strung together a six game unbeaten streak to move up to being on pace to host a home game in the playoffs. Next up for them is a visit a Charleston side that has looked shaky for the past few weeks but that is always dangerous.
5 (5) Richmond Kickers (48.7)
Richmond was unable to do much against Orlando, but they did extend their unbeaten streak to eight games. A second match against Orlando this week can keep Richmond on track as they hunt for a home playoff match and nine games undefeated.
6 (4) Charleston Battery (48.7)
After last week's draw with the Hammerheads, Charleston's winless streak has now reached four games. After allowing a goal in five straight games, the Battery are in need of a shutout and a solid defensive performance. They have a chance for one against a streaking Charlotte side this week.
7 (7) Rochester Rhinos (46.9)
Rochester easily handled Pittsburgh and have now only lost once in their last twelve matches. A midweek game against a top Cincinnati side can send a statement to the rest of the East that the 2015 champions are back.
8 (8) Orlando City B (41.5)
Orlando played to a draw at home against a hot Richmond side, but could have taken all three points. While it seems unlikely that Orlando will finish with anything but the eighth seed, but they need to prove to themselves and the rest of the league that they deserve to be in the postseason.
9 (10) Wilmington Hammerheads (33.9)
Wilmington earned a draw against playoff-bound Charleston, and moved to the top of the teams who are currently on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. Six points from their matches with Pittsburgh and Rochester this week will leave a glimmer of hope.
10 (9) Bethlehem Steel (32.5)
The Steel's hope of making the playoffs all but died when they gave up a late lead to fall at home against Montreal. There is still hope for the Steel, but it is fading fast and a trip to Louisville will not likely do anything to help.
11 (12) Harrisburg City Islanders (30.9)
Harrisburg is making a late season push to put up a respectable record, even though playoffs do not seem likely. A visit from Bethlehem can put Harrisburg into the top ten in the East if they stay hot.
12 (11) Toronto FC 2 (27.5)
A loss to Harrisburg all but ended the Toronto season. Even if they win all of their remaining games, they will likely end up out of the playoffs. At this point, Toronto is playing for respect and the chance to ruin the standings of other teams.
13 (13) Pittsburgh Riverhounds (20.9)
The Riverhounds have lost seven of their last ten games and are suddenly in danger of falling all the way to the bottom of the East table. They still have plenty of games left, and could all but end the postseason chances of Wilmington and Harrisburg with results this week.
14 (14) FC Montreal (20.0)
August has been kind to Montreal the last two seasons, accounting for 6 of their 12 total wins. They hope to continue this form of play when they visit Toronto this week in a game to hopefully get out of the basement.
Easiest Strength of Schedule to Date: Rochester Rhinos (1.27 points gained per game by opponent)
Easiest Strength of Schedule in Future: Harrisburg City Islanders (1.22 points gained per game by opponent)
Easiest Strength of Schedule Entire Season: Oklahoma City Energy (1.29 points gained per game by opponent)
Hardest Strength of Schedule to Date: Wilmington Hammerheads (1.48 points gained per game by opponent)
Hardest Strength of Schedule in Future: Saint Louis FC (1.64 points gained per game by opponent)
Hardest Strength of Schedule Entire Season: FC Montreal (1.44 points gained per game by opponent)
There are three excellent races currently happening in the USL. The first is happening in the East where Charlotte, Richmond, Charleston and Rochester are on pace to finish within two points of each other in the fight for the fourth playoff spot and an opportunity to host a first round playoff game.
The West has two entertaining races, as second to sixth is currently only separated by a projected 3.8 points. When one loss can send a team from the second seed to being on the road in the first round, every game is absolutely critical.
Just as close a race is happening for the seventh and eighth playoff spots, as the current split from seventh to the eleventh spots is only 4.6 points. Much like the fight for the top playoff spot, the fight for the bottom playoff spots is too close to call at this point, making every game for these teams moving forward almost a must-win.
With only a handful of games left, and so many spots still up for grabs, anything can happen. One cold streak can send a team from the potential to hold home field throughout the playoffs to not being able to play at home once. One hot streak can move a team from having to wait until next year to being the Cinderella story of the playoffs.
What do you think will happen? Let us know in the comments!