The MLS rank
Symmetry is beautiful
But not for Canucks
As we approach the end of the regular season, the MLS Power Rank has taken on a very clear form. Los Angeles (#1) and Seattle (#2) form the elite, while RSL (#3) through Kansas City (#6) round out the upper third. The Sounders and Salt Lake are separated by 0.18 goals, while the above average pack of RSL, Philly (#4), New York (#5), and KC are within a mere 0.05 goals of each other. Of these top sides, all but New York are virtually guaranteed of not only making the playoffs, but a first round bye as well. The Red Bulls have a tough road, as they travel to Kansas City and then finish the season hosting the Union, both of which are in the top third.
A gap of 0.1 goals exists between the above average squads and the 7 teams residing squarely in the middle of the Power Rank. These sides, from last year’s runner-up FC Dallas (#7) through Columbus (#13) are all within 0.07 goals of average (always zero). It is these teams that are currently fighting for their playoff lives, with Dallas, defending champs Colorado (#8), Houston (#10), and Columbus currently in, with Chicago (#9) and DC United (#11) on the bubble. Of this group, only Chivas (#12) has been officially eliminated. With a game in hand and 1 point advantage, Dallas is the clear favorite to emerge from the middle, as two of their last three games are against the lowly Earthquakes (#15) and Whitecaps (#16). DC are also in good shape as they have four matches left, with two against fellow middle teams and two against the lower third. Houston, however, may be in trouble. Their season may depend on whether or not LA decides to field their stars in the last game of the regular season in a bid to break the single season points record.
Once again, a 0.1 differential is found between the bastions of mediocrity and those teams that need some work: the bottom third. In this region, there are two teams slightly better than the rest (a relative situation to be sure): Portland (#14) and San Jose (#15). Of the bottom third, only the Timbers still have a shot at the playoffs, but it will be a challenge. Despite having a game in hand, they finish against teams ranked above them. A difference of 0.2 goals divides the top of the bottom from the true cellar of MLS: Vancouver (#16), New England (#17), and Toronto (#18).
The current MLS rank structure is highly symmetric, with gaps of 0.2 and 0.18 goals separating the exceptionally good and bad teams from the rest. Similarly, differences of 0.1 make the top and bottom thirds distinct from the middle. Of the other sports tracked by The Power Rank, only MLB comes at all close to recovering a structure like this, and then only between the distance between the top 5 clubs and all the rest. This clarity just developed this past week because the top three teams all lost by multi-goal margins. LA dropped 0.06 goals after they lost 2-0 to the Red Bulls in New York, while Seattle decreased by 0.09 goals following a 2-0 defeat at home to the Union. Both victors vaulted above KC in The Power Rank to form the above-average-yet-not-elite. To complete this group, Salt Lake suffered the shock defeat of the weekend, falling 3-0 in Vancouver, who were then the lowest ranked team. Their resulting drop of 0.07 goals confirmed that, this year, they are not a truly elite MLS club.