Thursday, September 25, 2008

Playoff Chances

Best press conference ever

With 5 games to play the Rapids are in the final playoff spot based on a goal differential tiebreaker with FSL. A precarious situation to say the least. What kind of chances do they have to make the playoffs?

First, a quick review of the MLS Playoff structure. 8 teams make the playoffs. The top 3 teams from each conference qualify automatically, and then the next two best teams qualify as wild-cards. Teams are matched up 1v4 and 2v3 inside each conference. If both wild cards come from the same conference the 5th placed team in that conference fills the 4 spot in the conference without a wild-card team. The first round is a 2-game home-and-home series, followed by a 1-game Conference Championship at the site of the team with the better record, and then MLS Cup held at a neutral location (LA this year).

Right now the standings look like this with both wild-card teams coming out of the Eastern Conference. At this point the rapids hold the final guaranteed spot in the West and are 2 points from tying DC for a wild-card spot, should they slip from 3rd to 4th.

One way to look at the chances is just to take each teams home and road performance and project that performance out over the remaining games (essentially current home/road points form x 15). Doing that you get the following final standings for the West:

Houston: 48.75
Chivas: 40.01
Colorado: 36.54
FSL: 36.25
San Jose: 36.25
LA: 34.42
Dallas: 33.75

And the 3 teams in the East trying for a wild card:
NY: 42.98
KC: 39.23
DC: 38.75

As you can see, we're on pace for a playoff spot, but with absolutely no room for error. San Jose or FSL playing above their season-long form would pass us with an extra point, LA or Dallas with an extra 3 points. We don't even keep up with the wild-card hopefuls.

Another way of looking at it is the strength of the remaining schedule. For a quick-and-dirty calculation I looked at the remaining schedules for all of the teams above and assigned them points for each team they played based on their current standings (1 point for a 1st placed team, 2 for a second, etc.). I divided the number by the remaining games to account for Houston and San Jose having one more game to play against each other. The lower the number the harder the schedule:

LA: 2.6
Colorado: 3.4
San Jose: 4.16
FSL: 4.2
Chivas: 4.4
Houston: 5.0
Dallas: 5.8

And the Wild-Card teams:
DC: 2.2
KC: 3.0
NY: 3.6

So out of the playoff hopefuls Colorado has the second hardest schedule, with only the long-shot Galaxy having a harder one. Not the data you want to see when you have no margin for error. Even though I didn't take home/away games into account that doesn't help the Rapids since they have more road than home games left.

Right now with the way the team is playing I think the Rapids will squeeze into the playoffs. I would not be surprised at a loss this weekend, but that wouldn't change my opinion. If we can get 8 points in the final stretch we should be in good shape, and I think that's more likely to happen with a win and a draw at home and a win and a draw on our two game LA trip than it is to get points in NY. We can't stumble after this weekend if we have any hope of post-season play.

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