Team-by-team USL PRO schedule analysis

Team-by-team USL PRO schedule analysis

Orlando looks set to win another Commissioner’s Cup, Richmond could hold on to second place despite a brutal road schedule, Charlotte could be in line for a surprisingly high finish, and the Charleston Battery’s favorable schedule should put the defending league champions in the middle of the USL PRO playoff picture.

That’s what I came up with after wasting an enormous amount of time staring at USL PRO statistics on Monday, an exercise that eventually resulted in a rough model for comparing schedules and estimating how many points teams can expect to earn by season’s end.

Which is to say what all intelligent consumers of statistics should know already: It’s not really a prediction, which are based on multiple complex factors, but rather a statistical extrapolation of the first two-thirds of the 2013 season across the final third of the schedule.

In other words, it’s a guess with numbers, and its only value is that it offers an at-a-glance comparison of relative difficulty and opportunity for each team in the league. Which, if nothing else, is something for soccer geeks to argue about.

How to read these numbers

Rather than play with anything complex, I backed out all the Antigua numbers from the league statistics, recalculated each team’s general Points Per Match (PPM) figure to account for different numbers of matches played, and then assigned arbitrary home and away factors based on multiplying or reducing each team’s PPM average by 25 percent, depending on where the match is played. When one of the teams’ numbers is greater than the other’s by more than 0.50 PPM points, that team is credited with 3 points. When the two numbers are within 0.50 PPM points of each other, each team receives a point.

Antigua has yet to earn a point in league play, so I’ve arbitrarily assigned the team a PPM of 0.10. Because even though they’re 0-10-0, they’ve just got to earn a point someday.

Also, this method does nothing to account for MLS Reserve teams. However, since I calculated the USL PRO’s record against all MLS Reserve squads at 9-2-8 two weeks ago, I decided to be conservative and grant all MLS Reserve teams a standard PPM of 1.00, regardless of home or away.

Strength of schedule is simply the PPM value of each opponent added together. It’s an OK comparison number, but since teams have different numbers of matches remaining, I needed an average to say something about the quality of those opponents.

You will notice that some games in the schedule have asterisks beside them. That’s to indicate two games played within 24 hours — a situation that lowers a team’s chance of winning the second match dramatically, but also reduces its quality in the preceding game, as coaches typically have to manage to field two competitive squads, rather than managing the fitness of one squad. The numbers to the right of the date of each match are the opponent’s overall PPM, and then the appropriate home or road factor.

Orlando

The Lions were the best team in the league during the first half of the season, but after losing several stars — including Dom Dwyer, the league’s top scorer — they went into a min-slump. With Richmond coming on strong at midseason, it looked like Orlando might slip from the top spot, but the relative difficulty of the teams’ remaining schedule suggests Orlando should be favored to add another Commissioner’s Cup to their trophy case. The addition of C. J. Sapong from Sporting Kansas City shouldn’t hurt, either.

Current: 38 points, first place
Remaining: 5 home, 3 away
PPM: 2.00 (2nd)
Home factor: 2.50
Road factor: 1.50
Strength of Schedule: 10.84
Opponent average: 1.355
Projected points: 17

Schedule
@Pittsburgh…..July 17….. 1.00….. 1.25
Harrisburg…..July 20….. 1.56….. 1.17
Pittsburgh….. Aug. 3*….. 1.00….. 0.75
@Tampa….. Aug. 4*….. 1.40….. 1.75
Tampa….. Aug. 7….. 1.40….. 1.05
Seattle….. Aug. 11….. NA….. 1.00
@Richmond….. Aug. 14….. 2.07….. 2.59
Charlotte….. Aug. 17….. 1.71….. 1.28

Projected finish: 55 points, Commissioner’s Cup winner, top seed in the playoffs.

Richmond

The Kickers had the weirdest schedule in the league in that it was radically frontloaded with home matches. Two-thirds of Richmond’s nine remaining matches are on the road, which ought to be enough to pull the team back down toward the rest of the league. That’s been the conventional wisdom, at any rate.

That said, Richmond has been surprisingly good on the road, and its remaining opponents are mediocre. I expected them to plummet in this model, but given their solid performance so far, the numbers keep up just outside the “draw” territory on those road matches. I think they’ll probably drop a few more points than this model suggests.

Current: 37 points, second place
Remaining: 3 home, 6 away
PPM: 2.07 (1st)
Home factor: 2.59
Road factor: 1.55
Strength of Schedule: 12.45
Opponent average: 1.383
Projected points: 15

Schedule
@Phoenix….. July 19….. 0.67….. 0.84
@Los Angeles….. July 21….. 1.44….. 1.80
@Vancouver….. July 23….. NA….. 1.00
Tampa Bay….. July 28….. 1.40….. 1.04
@Charlotte….. Aug. 2*….. 1.71….. 2.14
@Charleston….. Aug. 3*….. 1.41….. 1.76
Dayton….. Aug. 10….. 1.50….. 1.12
Orlando ….. Aug. 14….. 2.00….. 1.50
@Pittsburgh….. Aug. 17….. 1.00….. 1.25

Projected finish: 52 points, second seed in the playoffs.

Los Angeles

Because the LA Blues started their season in early March, they were always hard to figure this season. Were they that good, or were their points totals the result of more total games? Here it is July, and  that’s still the case. LA sits in third place at the moment, but their PPM is only 6th best in the league once you remove Antigua from the statistics.

What we know about this year’s LA team is that they can score goals… and give them up. It doesn’t look like they will move up in the standings, but the Blues have a very good shot at hosting a playoff match.

Current: 32 points, third place
Remaining: 4 home, 2 away
PPM: 1.44 (6th)
Home Factor: 1.80
Away factor: 1.08
Strength of Schedule: 8.26
Opponent average: 1.377
Projected points: 10

Schedule
Richmond …..July 21….. 2.07….. 1.55
@Charlotte….. July 24….. 1.71….. 2.14
@Charleston….. July 27….. 1.41….. 1.76
Harrisburg….. Aug. 3…..  1.56…..  1.17
Charleston…..  Aug. 8…..  1.41…..  1.06
Rochester…..  Aug. 17…..  0.78 ….. 0.58

Projected finish: 42 points, fourth seed.

Charlotte

At the start of the season the Eagles looked like an underwhelming team that would give Charleston fits but probably miss the playoffs. Instead they’re fourth in the table with a moderately favorable schedule, thanks to a modest increase in goal scoring. Looks like they’ll hold on to that position — and maybe improve on it just a bit, too.

Current: 32 points, fourth place
Remaining: 5 home, 3 away
PPM: 1.71 (3rd)
Home factor: 2.14
Road factor: 1.28
Strength of schedule: 10.550
Opponent average: 1.319
Projected points: 14

Schedule
Dayton…..  July 20…..  1.50…..  1.12
Los Angeles…..  July 24…..  1.44…..  1.08
Phoenix…..  July 27…..  0.67…..  0.50
Richmond…..  Aug. 2…..  2.07…..  1.55
@Harrisburg…..  Aug. 7…..  1.56…..  1.95
Antigua…..  Aug. 10…..  0.10…..  0.10
@Tampa Bay…..  Aug. 16*…..  1.40…..  1.75
@Orlando…..  Aug. 17*…..  2.00…..  2.50

Projected finish: 46 points, third seed.

Harrisburg

The City Islanders were the first team to challenge Orlando near the top of the table, but they’ve been in retreat over the last few weeks, dropping down to fifth place while they hoped that Richmond’s road schedule would bring down their rivals.

Now it’s Harrisburg with road woes. With five away games in their remaining eight, including Orlando and Los Angeles, they’ve got a lot of work to do.

Current: 31 points, fifth place
Remaining: 3 home, 5 away
PPM: 1.56 (4th)
Home factor: 1.95
Away factor: 1.17
Strength of schedule: 12.21
Opponent average: 1.526
Projected points: 10

Schedule
@Tampa Bay…..  July 19*…..  1.40…..  1.75
@Orlando…..  July 20*…..  2.00…..  2.50
Dayton…..  July 24…..  1.50…..  1.123
@Phoenix…..  July 31…..  0.67…..  0.84
@Los Angeles…..  Aug. 3…..  1.44…..  1.80
Charlotte…..  Aug. 7…..  1.71…..  1.28
Tampa Bay…..  Aug. 10…..  1.40…..  1.053
@Dayton…..  Aug. 17…..  1.50…..  1.87

Projected finish: 41 points, sixth seed.

Tampa Bay

VSI Tampa Bay FC is a pretty solid, experienced team, as the Battery have learned in two separate, painful lessons. But a bunch of their statistical success has come against Antigua (more than a third of the team’s goals this season were scored in two matches against the traveling islanders), and once you back it all out, they look a little less intimidating.

It doesn’t help that they’ve got one of the toughest schedules down the stretch, either.

Current: 27 points, sixth place
Remaining: 4 home, 5 away
PPM: 1.40 (8th)
Home factor: 1.75
Away factor: 1.05
Strength of schedule: 14.30
Opponent average: 1.589
Projected points: 8

Schedule
Harrisburg…..  July 19…..  1.56…..  1.17
@Wilmington…..  July 26…..  1.05…..  1.31
@Richmond…..  July 28…..  2.07…..  2.59
Pittsburgh…..  Aug. 2…..  1.00…..  0.75
Orlando…..  Aug. 4…..  2.00…..  1.50
@Orlando…..  Aug. 7…..  2.00…..  2.50
@Harrisburg…..  Aug. 10*…..  1.56…..  1.95
@Pittsburgh…..  Aug. 11*…..  1.00…..  1.25
Charlotte…..  Aug. 16…..  1.71…..  1.28

Projected finish: 35 points, eighth seed.

Charleston

The Battery haven’t been themselves over the past month, and an overstuffed schedule in May and June probably had a lot to do with that. They’ve dropped from 3rd in the table to a tie for the last three playoff positions after an 0-2-0 trip to Florida.

But one of the benefits of that tough schedule is that everything is about to get easier. Only five of their remaining eight are on the road, and they finish out their season with a home match against Antigua.

Is it enough to push them into the top four seeds and host their first playoff game? It’s not a safe bet, but it could happen.

Current: 27 points, seventh place
Remaining: 5 home, 3 away
PPM: 1.41 (7th)
Home factor: 1.76
Away factor: 1.06
Strength of schedule: 8.3
Opponent average: 1.037
Projected points: 15

Schedule
Dayton July 19 1.50 1.12 3
Phoenix July 24 0.67 0.50 3
Los Angeles July 27 1.44 1.08 3
@Wilmington Aug. 2 1.05 1.31 1
Richmond Aug. 3+ 2.07 1.55 1
@Los Angeles Aug. 8 1.44 1.80 0
@Phoenix Aug. 10 0.67 0.84 1
Antigua Aug. 15 0.00 0.10 3

Projected finish: 42 points, fifth seed.

Dayton

The words “surprising” and “Dayton” have been used quite a bit together in the past few weeks. But look at their schedule and you begin to see why. With nine games remaining Dayton is now on the “road side” of its schedule, with six away dates. So while their home factor is pretty good, their away factor isn’t enough to earn them many 3-point results in this model.

Current: 27 points, eighth place
Remaining: 3 home, 6 away
PPM: 1.50 (6th)
Home factor: 1.87
Away factor: 1.12
Strength of schedule: 12.78
Opponent average: 1.420
Projected points: 8

Schedule
@Charleston…..  July 19*…..  1.41…..  1.76
@Charlotte…..  July 20*…..  1.71…..  2.14
@Harrisburg…..  July 24…..  1.56…..  1.95
Antigua ….. July 26…..  0.00…..  0.10
@Rochester…..  Aug. 2…..  0.78 ….. 0.97
Wilmington…..  Aug. 4…..  1.05…..  0.79
@Wilmington ….. Aug. 9*…..  1.05 ….. 1.31
@Richmond…..  Aug. 10* ….. 2.07…..  2.59
Harrisburg…..  Aug. 17…..  1.56…..  1.17

Projected finish: 35 points, seventh seed.

Wilmington

Watch out for Wilmington. With five of eight at home and no heavyhitters left on the schedule, the Hammerheads could play their best soccer in late July and August. There probably aren’t enough wins left on the board to lift them into the playoffs, but it could actually be close.

Of course, for that to happen, the Hammerheads will have to stop giving away goals.

Current: 21 points, ninth place
Remaining: 5 home, 3 away
PPM: 1.05 (9th)
Home factor: 1.31
Away factor: 0.79
Strength of schedule: 8.17
Opponent average: 1.021
Projected points: 11

Schedule
@Rochester…..  July 19…..  0.78 ….. 0.97
@Pittsburgh…..  July 21…..  1.00…..  1.25
Tampa Bay…..  July 26…..  1.40…..  1.05
Charleston ….. Aug. 2…..  1.41…..  1.06
@Dayton…..  Aug. 4…..  1.40…..  1.87
Dayton…..  Aug. 9…..  1.40…..  1.12
Pittsburgh…..  Aug. 14…..  1.00…..  0.75
Antigua…..  Aug. 17…..  0.00 ….. 0.10

Projected finish: 32 points, ninth place.

Pittsburgh

The Riverhounds improved off their slow start to the season, but not enough to contend for hardware. Their remaining schedule is not particularly difficult, but there just aren’t that many wins on the board for them in this model.

Current: 21 points, 10th place
Remaining: 4 home, 5 away
PPM: 1.00 (10th)
Home factor: 1.25
Away factor: 0.75
Strength of Schedule: 10.670
Opponent average: 1.185
Projected points: 6

Schedule
Orlando…..  July 17…..  2.00 ….. 1.50
Wilmington…..  July 21…..  1.05…..  0.79
@Toronto…..  July 27…..  NA ….. 1.00
@Tampa Bay…..  Aug. 2*…..  1.40…..  1.75
@Orlando ….. Aug. 3*…..  2.00 ….. 2.50
@Rochester ….. Aug. 9…..  0.78 ….. 0.97
Tampa Bay…..  Aug. 11 ….. 1.40 ….. 1.05
@Wilmington…..  Aug. 14…..  1.05…..  1.31
Richmond ….. Aug. 17…..  2.07…..  1.55

Projected finish: 27 points, 10th place.

Phoenix

This is more along the lines of what I thought an expansion team would be. They’re glad to have Antigua in the league to keep them out of the cellar — though not by much. The Wolves beat the Baracuda twice this season by 1-0 margins.

Current: 18 points, 11th place
Remaining: 4 home, 2 away
PPM: 0.67 (12th)
Home factor: 0.84
Away factor: 0.50
Strength of schedule: 8.36
Opponent average: 1.377
Projected points: 3

Schedule
Richmond…..  July 19…..  2.07…..  1.55
@Charleston…..  July 24…..  1.41…..  1.76
@Charlotte…..  July 27…..  1.71…..  2.14
Harrisburg…..  Aug. 1 ….. 1.56…..  1.17
Charleston…..  Aug. 10…..  1.41…..  1.06
Rochester…..  Aug. 16…..  0.78…..  0.58

Projected finish: 21 points, 12th place.

Rochester

O how the mighty have temporarily fallen.

Why isn’t Rochester better? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s pretty clear that the Rhinos have a defensive problem. Kristian Nicht covered it up nicely with two heroic performances in goal against Charleston, but you can’t do that every night.

The good news is Rochester’s schedule — the easiest in the league by my accounting — should be enough to pull the team out of the bottom spot among clubs not named “Barracuda.”

Current: 17 points, 12th place
Remaining: 4 home, 3 away)
PPM: 0.78 (11th)
Home factor: 0.97
Away factor: 0.58
Strength of schedule: 6.48
Opponent average: 0.926
Projected points: 8

Schedule
Wilmington…..  July 19…..  1.05…..  0.79
@Montreal…..  July 21…..  NA…..  1.00
Antigua…..  July 28 ….. 0.00…..  0.10
Dayton…..  Aug. 2…..  1.50…..  1.12
Pittsburgh…..  Aug. 9…..  1.00…..  0.75
@Phoenix ….. Aug. 16*…..  0.67 ….. 0.84
@Los Angeles…..  Aug. 17*…..  1.44…..  1.80

Projected finish: 25 points, 11th place.

Antigua

Because of poor performance, Antigua is not included in these rankings. It is given a constant arbitrary factor of 0.10 in calculations.

Current: 0 points, 13th place
Remaining: 7 away
PPM: 0.00 (not ranked)

Schedule
@San Jose….. July 15…..  NA
@FCD…..  July 23…..  NA
@Dayton…..  July 26…..  1.50
@Rochester…..  July 28…..  0.78
@Charlotte…..  Aug 10…..  1.71
@Charleston…..  Aug 15…..  1.41
@Wilmington…..  Aug 17 ….. 1.05

1 Comment

  1. For Charleston I think you meant you write ‘Only three of their remaining eight are on the road,’ instead of ‘Only five of their remaining eight are on the road,’