As we are now entering the final third of the season, it is time to start talking about playoffs. Which teams are in? Which teams are out?
While you can just go read the league’s standings list to see how things are today, that does not really give the full picture. Some teams have games in hand. Others have a harder finish to the season.
I have created a formula to help balance out these aspects in order to create a more accurate model of how the rest of the season will play out. First, we look at the ratio of strength of average opponent to date vs strength of average opponent in the future. This ratio is then multiplied by the average points gained per game by the team in question, and that result is used to project points gained for the remainder of the season.
For example, let’s say Orange County has gained 1.529 points per match this season and is going up against opponents that have gained an average of 1.215 points per match. The opponents that Orange County will play are expected to gain 1.542 points per game, creating a ratio of 0.788. When the ratio is multiplied by the average results of Orange County, we see that they are expected to gain 1.205 over their final fifteen matches.
There are limitations to this when you have teams which are extreme positive or negative outliers. Portland in particular causes problems as they drag down the average strength of opponent to the extreme. If viewed as an independent matchup instead of using average opponents, nearly every team would be expected to take more than three points on average from Portland, which is of course impossible.
Without further ado, here are the playoff projections at the end of Week 20, presented with the expected points at the end of the season, shown to the nearest tenth of a point.
1. Real Monarchs SLC (72.1)
2. San Antonio FC (65.9)
3. Swope Park Rangers (59.4)
4. Reno 1868 FC (51.3)
5. Sacramento Republic (50.7)
6. Phoenix Rising (48.5)
7. Tulsa Roughnecks (48.1)
8. Orange County SC (44.1)
9. Oklahoma City Energy (43.5)
10. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (42.2)
11. Rio Grande Valley Toros (37.3)
12. Seattle Sounders 2 (34.2)
13. Los Angeles Galaxy II (28.5)
14. Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (27.8)
15. Portland Timbers 2 (13.9)
With most teams entering the final ten games of the season, the top three teams are maintaining a pace ahead of the rest of the pack and look ready to coast to a first round home game. That being said, no one is safe. In late June last season, Vancouver was expected to take home the top seed, but only managed two wins in their final ten matches before falling to sixth seed.
The big battle right now is the fight for the fourth seed. Unless someone has an abysmal final months of a season, or if a team down the table catches fire, we will see one of Reno, Sacramento, Phoenix and Tulsa take that final home game to kick off the postseason.
Another big battle is the fight for the final spot in the West, which as it currently stands will be between Orange County, Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs. All three teams have upset potential, and whichever ends up in the top spot will need to keep a wary eye on their opening match.
Hardest average opponent finish to season (West teams only):
Orange County SC (1.542 points gained/game) - hardest finish in USL
Colorado Springs Switchbacks (1.527 points gained/game)
Rio Grande Valley Toros (1.508 points gained/game)
Easiest average opponent finish to season (West teams only):
Tulsa Roughnecks (1.215 points gained/game) - easiest finish in USL
Phoenix Rising (1.252 points gained/game)
Seattle Sounders 2 (1.314 points gained/game)
Which teams do you think will climb up the projections? Who will earn that fourth seed? The eighth seed? Let us know in the comments!