Major League Soccer’s 20th season kicks off later tonight, so in advance of the new season I present projections for all twenty teams in the regular season.
I thank Aaron Nielsen for his work in creating expected goal statistics for all of the MLS sides and for his permission in allowing me to use these figures in the projections. I must stress that my projected league table is mine alone and does not necessarily match his.
The projected league table is the Pythagorean projection for each team given the number of matches played, goals scored, and goals allowed. The result is the expected point total of an average team with identical statistics. Teams in a league competition play better or worse than average, so there is some regression toward a mean in these figures. Furthermore, the fidelity of the projection depends on the fidelity of the expected goal figures, which lean toward conservatism in offensive and defensive goal statistics. The projections are best viewed in terms of trends than specific predictions.
So with those caveats out of the way…
In the East we project that New England Revolution, MLS Cup finalists in 2014, will finish atop the conference, but could face challenges from Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, or even the Chicago Fire. I believe the Fire are expected to score more goals due to the addition of three international Designated Players to the roster (Accam, Maloney, and Igboanaike), as are Toronto FC with the addition of Altidore and Giovinco, but defensive strength or frailty will determine which projections turn out to be accurate. The two “City” teams — Orlando City and New York City — could be in the mix for a playoff place but will find the transition to MLS to be more challenging than expected. Overall it should be a close fight for the playoffs among all ten teams.
Last season, the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders took Western Conference (and league) dominance down to the final day, and this season’s projection sees the same outcome this season. My personal opinion is that Seattle have the edge due to the strength of their attack and ability to settle on a starting XI before LA (the Galaxy will still have to incorporate Steven Gerrard when he arrives in the summer). The Timbers have had to face some serious injury challenges already and I’m not sure they’ll be able to finish so high in the Conference, but we will see. As with the East, it will be the defense that determines who is in and who is out.
Overall, the Galaxy finish in top position by the narrowest of margins, but in my opinion the race for the Supporters Shield will come down to three of the four MLS Cup semifinalists: the Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and New England Revolution. Maybe Chicago, and maybe the Crew as well, but those two teams have outside chances at best (especially the Fire). As always in Major League Soccer, the distance between top and bottom is not great, so it should make for a very even competition, or a very frustrating one depending on your perspective.