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Checking in on the reworked Eastern Conference Standings

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The MLS Table still hates Atlanta United

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a couple of weeks since I introduced a new approach to tracking the MLS Eastern Conference Standings, an approach which I fully admit was borne out of a resistance to accept Atlanta United as struggling to stay in range of the last playoff spot. Since some time as passed, and we’ve seen our share of positive and negative ATLUTD results in the intervening period, I thought I would post an update. First, here’s where the East stands after this weekend’s happenings:

ATLUTD has slipped (-1 at BC Place) only slightly off The Pace since this concept was introduced. But other teams have as well.

Atlanta remain fourth, squarely in the playoff mix according to “PoP” (still working on the name). As a reminder of how this works, just after the Houston game, Atlanta were hanging out in 4th, just four points off the pace (-4). They’ve since beaten NYCFC at home (+0), and lost to Vancouver Whitecaps away (-1) for a combined -5. Most teams at the top have dropped off further the pace as well with the exception of Chicago, who having slipped early in the season are holding their ground, winning at home and drawing away. The Impact who sit second to last in the official table are right there scrapping above the red line and should not be overlooked.

Steady

It’s important to remember that this view is in no way a “Power Ranking,” or any sort of subjective measure of a team’s underlying quality, nor is it a prediction for how the standings will look in the end. It’s simply a different (hopefully more balanced) objective way to look at things that have occurred. As an Atlanta fan, this worries me because as I look to the future, it will be a tall task for the Five Stripes to maintain the Pace in September by winning something like 6 home games in 17 days. What otherwise might have been an advantage heading down the stretch may not be this year thanks to the engineering marvel that is the Mercedes Benz Stadium’s retractable roof.

Another way to look at things

And this reminds me to thank everyone for the comments left in the last post (and on Twitter). One thing I read that I think is quite fair is the concern that this new look might over-correct the table for home-away scheduling in the sense that it awards away teams for keeping pace with a draw (when the average MLS side’s historical away pace matches this at 1 point per game), but it requires much more of home teams, setting the pace at 3 PPG when in fact teams average fewer than 2 PPG at home over the course of a season. While home field advantage seems to be at all time highs in 2017, I think it’s worth at least looking at the adjusted table with this in mind. So here we go. Here’s how the standings look if you compare each team’s raw points earned to date to how the historically average MLS team does with the same number of home and away games (# of home games X 1.78 + # of away games X 0.98):

When the Pace is set a bit slower, Atlanta falls down some but is still right there in the playoff mix.

Whereas in the first version, a zero means a team is on pace to win the Supporter’s Shield, in Version 2 (above), zero means you’re on pace for 43 points, good enough for the 6th spot in some years, but below the 46 point average for the last playoff berth in the East.

So there you go. Atlanta is on track for the playoffs under either of the above approaches, but not comfortably so in the more modest Version 2 table. They’re also fifth in the conference if you just take straight points per game. The Official MLS table, (the one that we see in every pre-match and post-match segment) remains a hater with Atlanta in 8th, something that could come to pass if Atlanta struggles with the congested fixture list coming up.

I write detailed Atlanta United match analyses and some statsy-type stuff over at ATLUTDInsight.wordpress.com. Check it out some time if you like that sort of thing.

Postscriptum: for completeness sake, the little guys

And since I neglected to show this for the Western Conference in the last post, here you go. First, classic PoP:

It’s all quite close in the west, but this likes the Galaxy a bit more than the basic table does.

And for completeness, Version 2 for the West (against a pace of 43 points):