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The truth about MLS’ Eastern conference standings

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Fear not. The MLS Standings continue to lie to us. They’re liars and they’re lying.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone else getting impatient? I don’t know about you, but I had to resort to watching opening weekend of an inferior version of the sport this past weekend. It’s been over a week since Atlanta United last took the field, but during this time MLS has not halted. Teams competing against Atlanta for playoff spots have continued playing games, and some have even accumulated points (not you Orlando City). And the end result of this — I guarantee you — is that during the pre-match show next Wednesday ahead of the DC United game, our favorite Fox Sports analysts will tell you that Atlanta are “hanging onto that last playoff spot in 6th place.” While technically this is true, I’m here to remind us all - and I’ll try to be brief this time - that this is misleading, at best.

Table Time

Here are the official MLS standings as of 8/16 (before Montreal v Chicago kicks off).

#hangingon

Sure, Atlanta are 6th, behind Columbus Crew on tiebreakers (that team we’ve beaten home and away), nevermind that they’ve played 3 more games. A quick sort on PPG can sort most of this out (please, TV PEOPLE!):

lawl, goodbye Columbus

But even this is slightly misleading. As I’ve preached countless times, home field advantage is so important in MLS, that it makes sense to balance our standings further to take into account the fact that Atlanta United have 8 home games and only 4 away games remaining. If you compare each team’s points per game to the points per game an historically average MLS team would have scored having played the same mix of home and away games, you get a more helpful and realistic picture:

So there you go. This in my mind is an accurate picture of the very strong Eastern conference. Atlanta and RBNY are battling tooth and nail for the last home opener in the playoffs. It will be tight and it could go either way, but Atlanta are just barely hanging on to 4th, not 6th. If you care more about worst case scenarios, the above table should comfort you. It is really just Montreal at this point that could pip us for the last playoff spot, and that would take a drastic change in form from Atlanta or Montreal or both. It absolutely could happen. But at the moment, 3 teams would need to make ground on Atlanta to knock us out of the playoffs, not 1.

M. Night Shyamalan Ending

Something important I want to point out that sometimes gets lost in the #narrative is that Atlanta United is actually the 6th best team in the East at home (2.1 ppg), behind even the New England Revolution (!), and yet the 3rd best team in the East on the road (1.2 ppg), ahead of RBNY, Montreal, and Chicago. Let that sink in. Surprising right? Since all we hear about is how BDS is a fortress and the team needs to learn how to win on the road...

This is perhaps a caution to anyone looking at the loaded home schedule coming up and declaring that Atlanta will skyrocket up the standings. I think it is more likely that Atlanta will end up 4th or 5th in the East and will probably play the Red Bulls, either at the Benz or in New Jersey.

Postscriptum:

For those who prefer the other PACE standings I’ve shown in the past, where results are balanced against the old adage of “win at home and draw away,” Atlanta looks even better, neck and neck with NYCFC for 3rd.