Final regular-season USL power ratings

The regular season is complete, so how did teams perform over the course of it? Here are the final Pure Power ratings:

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These ratings account for goals for/against in home/away games, and are the aggregate total of individual game performances (so if you’re one standard deviation above average in one game, and half a standard deviation below average in a second game, your team’s Pure Power rating over those two games would be 0.5).

Nashville tied one of the worst teams in the league and the best side over the course of the past week, and it ultimately dropped them four spots (along with the out-of-town scoreboard). We’ll see if I can find a way to incorporate playoff results into the Pure Power table – though as it’s currently constructed, that would require some major tinkering.

Other aspects of previous Power Ratings posts (the table power metric) is no longer relevant, since it’s a prediction for the final table, which, uh, we already know the answer to.

For what it’s worth, while the Pure Power metric isn’t designed to correlate directly with results (it’s designed to correlate with performance, so a one-goal win is more like a draw than it is a three-goal win, to put it in simple terms), it does line up pretty well with teams’ final standings in the tables – though like the Table Power metric, I’m wary that differences between the two conferences make comparisons with both included a little less statistically sound:

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Your outlier in the bottom-left there is Richmond, which started the season OK, but was horrible through the end, and didn’t just lose games, it got blown out in them. That should mean a worse power rating than points obtained over the course of the year.

The high outlier on the other side (around the intersection of the 40,0 mark) is Fresno. That makes sense as well: they actually tied for the seventh-best goal differential in the West, but finished 12th because they lost by a single goal twelve times in 13 losses (the only exception a 3-0 loss to Orange County back in May). Meanwhile, only three of their nine wins were by a single goal. A little bit of puck-luck (to borrow a hockey term) really worked against them.

For what it’s worth, Nashville’s Pure Power rating is indeed above the trendline, but despite the “we suck and we’ve sucked all season” portion of the fanbase’s grousing, it’s well within the bounds of a bounce here and there resulting in dropping points – which the eyeball test bore out over the course of the season, as well.

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USL Power ratings: Oct. 8, 2018

Mostly a chalk-ish week, but some interesting swings in the USL. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year. Obviously as we approach the end of the year, it’s going to 1) look a lot like the current table, and 2) potentially spit out final point totals (five from two games, for example) that may not be technically possible.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati – 78 points
  2. Louisville – 64 points
  3. Pittsburgh – 62 points
  4. Charleston – 53 points
  5. Indianapolis – 52 points
  6. Nashville – 51 points
  7. Bethlehem – 48 points
  8. NYRB (+1) – 48 points*
  9. North Carolina (-1) – 45 points
  10. Ottawa – 45 points
  11. Charlotte (+1) – 43 points
  12. Tampa Bay (-1) – 42 points*
  13. Penn – 38 points
  14. Atlanta – 30 points
  15. Richmond – 23 points
  16. Toronto – 17 points

*I’ve now baked in the non-conference results for NYRBII (draw against LA Galaxy II) and Tampa Bay (win over Real Monarchs) into the projected point totals. It basically docks Red Bulls half a projected point and gives Tampa 1.8 projected points.

Just a couple flips here with unexpected results in the East: Red Bulls’ win over North Carolina FC was obviously a six-pointer in the playoff race (and indeed moved NYRBII into a projected playoff spot over NCFC), while Tampa’s loss to Charlotte was another six-pointer, albeit one that only officially knocked the second-most expensive team in the USL out of the playoffs – the Rowdies were likely to be officially eliminated with other results, anyway – while moving Charlotte past.

Charleston’s nosedive over the past four weeks or so is noteworthy, and far more precipitous than Nashville’s version of same earlier in the year. Indeed, it gives NSC the opportunity to move into fourth place (they’re the only team with that opportunity, since Indy doesn’t have a game in-hand).

I played around with including Cincinnati on the top and the bottom three in the chart this week, since we’re getting close to the end of the year and we miss those guys. The scaling was really bad, though (everything from Charleston to Charlotte looked like a complete lump) so I decided against it. Trust that they’re mostly holding steady with a very slight drop from Cincy, a slight rise from Atlanta, and Richmond and TFCII remaining well behind the pack.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Orange County – 67 points
  2. Phoenix Rising – 66 points
  3. Sacramento Republic – 62 points
  4. Real Monarchs – 58 points*
  5. Reno 1868 – 56 points
  6. St. Louis (+2) – 52 points
  7. Portland Timbers (-1) – 52 points
  8. Swope Park (-1) – 52 points
  9. San Antonio – 50 points
  10. OKC Energy – 42 points
  11. Colorado Springs – 41 points
  12. Fresno FC (+1) – 39 points
  13. LA Galaxy II (-1) – 39 points*
  14. Rio Grande Valley – 38 points
  15. Las Vegas Lights – 30 points
  16. Seattle Sounders (+1) – 23 points
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks (-1) – 23 points

*As above, Real Monarchs’ projected points and LAGII’s include their non-conference results. That means the point totals won’t necessarily follow with the ratings themselves. 

Even though the playoff situation has been much clearer here for several weeks, there was still a bit of fluidity (even with results that were mostly expected). St. Louis moved to the top of the logjam for the 6-8 spots, though all three of them, Portland, and Swope are projected on 52 points – they can’t actually all finish there, with Swope on 50 with a single game left.

San Antonio is still alive for that last spot, and they’ll be kicking themselves for a couple silly dropped points in the final few weeks if they don’t end up in the playoffs. They are currently tied on points with St. Louis and hold the wins tiebreaker, but give up a game i-hand, so even just a win and a draw from STLFC would make it impossible for San Antonio to finish ahead of them.

It’s super-tight at the top between Orange County and Phoenix, with Rising needing a win and a better result than OC’s final game out of that game in-hand to win the West, because they give up the wins tiebreaker. Their midweek game against Vegas shouldn’t be intriguing on the small-scale (Vegas is awful), but as it relates to the race for the top of the West, does carry some larger-scale implications.

Tulsa is back to being the bottom team in the West by virtue of having lost to a worse team (here meaning “the No. 5 team instead of the No. 1 team”).

Pure Power

This rating method uses an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

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Nashville and Sacramento make big four-position rises… but look at 1) the gulf between those two and Pittsburgh ahead of them in the 5-spot, and 2) how tight things are all the way back to No. 10 Charleston or so. They made much smaller moves in the actual raw numbers than they did on the leaderboard, just because it’s so tight in there.

Big drops from Charleston (loss to Atlanta United 2) and Portland (2-0 home loss to Reno) helped facilitate those moves, of course. Reno only climbed a bit as a consequence, so that game was much more a “Portland worse than expected” than a “Reno better than expected.” Atlanta climbed a fair amount, so the result in Lawrenceville was a little bit of both.

Other big moves were New York going up two spots after a win over North Carolina, which sunk one position as a result. A bad road team getting a road result is always going to be a slightly bigger boost than a team having a slightly better-than-expected result (see: SC, Nashville).

Colorado Springs getting thrashed by Fresno FC resulted in an entirely understandable drop.

Playoffs?

Tiebreakers not taken into account in this chart (Portland has already clinched at least eighth on tiebreakers, for example, but as we approach the home stretch, the table is becoming super-clear nonetheless:

Cincy and Atlanta are the only two teams in the USL who know exactly where they’ll finish in their conference. Playoff races (or at least the relevant portions thereof) are mostly broken down above.

What it means for Nashville SC

The win against Richmond was necessary but not sufficient to make the playoffs. A win against Toronto FC II Tuesday would almost certainly seal things. It would also open the door to finishing much, much higher than just eighth (indeed, fourth place would be on the table).

I’ll have a playoff breakdown for NSC in specific coming up.

USL Power ratings: Oct. 1, 2018

Mostly a chalk-ish week, but some interesting swings in the USL. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati – 79 points
  2. Louisville – 64 points
  3. Pittsburgh – 61 points
  4. Charleston – 56 points
  5. Indianapolis – 53 points
  6. Nashville – 50 points
  7. Bethlehem – 48 points
  8. North Carolina – 47 points
  9. NYRB 1.89 – 46 points*
  10. Ottawa 1.82 – 45 points
  11. Tampa Bay – 44 points*
  12. Charlotte (-1) – 42 points
  13. Penn – 38 points
  14. Atlanta – 27 points
  15. Richmond – 24 points
  16. Toronto – 19 points

*I’ve now baked in the non-conference results for NYRBII (draw against LA Galaxy II) and Tampa Bay (win over Real Monarchs) into the projected point totals, so the rankings and numbers may end up sliiightly off. It basically docks Red Bulls half a projected point and gives Tampa 1.8 projected points.

There were zero (0) changes in the projected standings after the weekend’s games, which makes sense when we’re over 90% done with the regular season. While there can still be swings with wildly unexpected results, this is basically how the final table should shake out.

Cincinnati actually gained a point in the final projection, but sadly they probably won’t get to a point where they’re projected to finish with more points than is technically possible (as I thought might be the case for a little while). Toronto inches closer to Richmond on the bottom, but again, probably not enough games left to make the pass (TFC would have to go at least 2-0-1 in their final three, with Richmond losing both its final pair).

Not a lot to talk about, honestly, with the 6-10 spots all pretty much up for grabs right now.

Cincinnati and the bottom three teams are left off here to give a bit more clarity to the parts of the table that still have the potential for some relevant shakeups.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Orange County – 67 points
  2. Phoenix Rising – 67 points
  3. Sacramento Republic (+1) – 60 points
  4. Real Monarchs (-1) – 57 points*
  5. Reno 1868 (+2) – 54 points
  6. Portland Timbers (-1) – 53 points
  7. Swope Park (+1) – 53 points
  8. St. Louis (-2) – 52 points
  9. San Antonio – 49 points
  10. OKC Energy – 43 points
  11. Colorado Springs (+2) – 41 points
  12. LA Galaxy II – 40 points*
  13. Fresno FC – 39 points
  14. Rio Grande Valley – 37 points
  15. Las Vegas Lights – 31 points
  16. Tulsa Roughnecks – 24 points
  17. Seattle Sounders – 24 points

*As above, Real Monarchs’ projected points and LAGII’s include their non-conference results. That means the point totals won’t necessarily follow with the ratings themselves. 

A little more intrigue here in terms of shakeup, though the playoff field remains basically the same with San Antonio removing itself from any control of its own destiny in last week’s ratings. I think the top eight as things stand will remain the top eight come the end of the regular season.

Real Monarchs continue to hit the tank, and based on their trajectory (look at that impressive downward line in the chart!), it wouldn’t even surprise me if they end up without a home playoff game, just a few weeks after they looked like they were going to run away with the West Cincinnati-style.

Among the non-playoff teams (I’ve excised the Roughnecks and Sounders II from the chart to give a bit more clarity to the relevant portions), there was some shakeup, primarily from Colorado Springs’ knocking off the Monarchs. Still not a lot to watch here, at least among things that remain interesting on a larger scale.

Pure Power

This rating method uses an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

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Hello, Reno! Two results in a week sees a major climb. While the 2-0 line over Tulsa wasn’t all that impressive, blasting Rio Grande Valley 4-0 certainly is. Reno’s remaining games are against Portland, Phoenix, and Orange County, so they can either keep up this really nice run of form and totally change the vibe of the final table, or it can be snuffed out when actually facing really good opponents. Either way, they’re one of the more interesting teams to watch in this stretch run.

Real Monarchs’ slide has been covered a bit, and is basically expected at this point. Fortunately, they close with OKC and Fresno, so it would take upsets for them to not go home with several more points. Of course “Real gets upset” has been a theme of the past six weeks or so, so don’t dismiss is out-of-hand.

North Carolina FC drops down in this one with a two-game week, a loss to Charleston Battery and a closer-than-anyone-should-have game against Richmond Kickers (he said, six days before the team he writes about loses to the Kickers).

Colorado Springs a mentioned above, and their climb is co-causal with Real’s slide (like RGV’s is related to Reno’s climb). Penn suffered only a 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh, and while that’s not good, their slide is more related to smaller climbs around them.

Playoffs?

A minor point of clarification on these – they don’t take into account tiebreakers, so the “best” assumes being the top team in any multi-way tie, whereas “worst” assumes being the bottom team in any multi-way tie. Portland, for example, can finish as low as a tie for eighth… but on tiebreakers, they’ve already clinched playoff position.

Charleston is latest to clinch in the East, despite a loss to TFCII on the weekend. Penn is still technically alive for the final spot, but let’s be a little realistic about that, yeah? (They probably aren’t actually even technically alive, given that they’d need there to be multiple games with neither team getting a single point – something you’ll note is impossible – to pass enough teams. Didn’t go that deep).

The situation in the West remains the same, as well. San Antonio is hoping and praying that teams ahead of them drop points while they win their final two games (albeit against RGV and Las Vegas – not a bad stretch run if you’re hoping to sneak into the postseason). It still seems unlikely, with St. Louis boasting a game against Tulsa among its final two.

What it means for Nashville SC

Despite taking only four points from the week (we’d have been ecstatic to see that happen the previous week, of course), things are starting to remain safe as long as NSC takes care of business. They have the worst two teams in the East in their final three games (of course, the best team in the East is there, as well), and winning those would lock down a bid.

Of course, it’s not that easy, and we’ve seen NSC drop points in situations like this before. Toronto is also on a very good run of form with wins over Louisville and now Charleston in the past several weeks. Taking care of Richmond this Saturday is absolutely necessary, and would come very close to getting that spot clinched (though it wouldn’t be a lock with only that result).

The “one game at a time” mantra is the epitome of mindless coachspeak, but in this situation, it applies: Nashville needn’t worry about those final two games, with a must-win contest against by far the USL’s worst team. Focus on this one, and the rest should take care of itself.

USL Power ratings: Sept. 24, 2018

Mostly a chalk-ish week, but some interesting swings in the USL. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year. I’ve switched from including the raw number to showing projected points only. It’s more broadly applicable to the layman.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati – 78 points
  2. Louisville – 63 points
  3. Pittsburgh – 61 points
  4. Charleston – 57 points
  5. Indianapolis – 51 points
  6. Nashville – 49 points
  7. Bethlehem – 48 points
  8. North Carolina (+1) – 47 points
  9. NYRB 1.89 (-1) – 46 points*
  10. Ottawa 1.82 – 44 points
  11. Tampa Bay (+2) – 45 points*
  12. Charlotte (-1) – 42 points
  13. Penn (-1) – 39 points
  14. Atlanta – 28 points
  15. Richmond – 25 points
  16. Toronto – 15 points

*I’ve now baked in the non-conference results for NYRBII (draw against LA Galaxy II) and Tampa Bay (win over Real Monarchs) into the projected point totals, though they aren’t reflected in the ratings themselves. It basically docks Red Bulls half a projected point and gives Tampa 1.8 projected points.

The chart no longer includes Cincinnati, because they’re so far ahead of the pack (already locked into first, whereas nobody else has even clinched eighth yet) as to make the more interesting middle portion of the chart tougher to read. I similarly excised Atlanta, Richmond, and Toronto from the bottom, so we can have a clearer view of those still jockeying for relevant positions.

Charleston remains in fourth but drops a couple projected points. The system works in aggregate, rather than projecting individual games, but you can essentially interpret that as they dropped two against Nashville that they were “expected” to get.

There’s still a pretty intense battle at spots 7, 8, and 9 (and Nashville seems intent on making No. 6 be party to that battle as well). Red Bulls are the team on the outside looking in this week, though it’s close enough that any of those can certainly be in any of the four spots in play.

How about Tampa, though? Two wins in a week is two wins in a week, and it doesn’t matter if one of them is semi-fluky (an uncharacteristic penalty conceded and an own-goal by Nashville) and the other comes against Richmond when it gets down to it. Wins in four out of five – after adding some good personnel at the roster deadline – could have them poised to make some playoff noise.

At this point, Charlotte and Penn are pretty close to sealing their status as also-rans – though of course the Tampa climb is a lesson to not bury anyone too quickly, they’re headed in the wrong direction (more on this in a later section).

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USL West power rankings

  1. Orange County (+1) – 67 points
  2. Phoenix Rising (-1) – 65 points
  3. Real Monarchs – 60 points*
  4. Sacramento Republic – 58 points
  5. Portland Timbers – 54 points
  6. St. Louis (+2) – 53 points
  7. Reno 1868 (-1) – 53 points
  8. Swope Park (-1) – 53 points
  9. San Antonio – 48 points
  10. OKC Energy – 42 points
  11. Fresno FC – 41 points
  12. LA Galaxy II (+1) – 40 points*
  13. Colorado Springs (-1) – 38 projected points
  14. Rio Grande Valley – 36 points
  15. Las Vegas Lights – 33 points
  16. Tulsa Roughnecks (+1) – 25 points
  17. Seattle Sounders (-1) – 24 points

*As above, Real Monarchs’ projected points and LAGII’s include their non-conference results. That means the point totals won’t quite follow with the ratings themselves. 

I should probably re-scale this chart to excise the bottom couple teams (which are basically going to finish in those two positions in one order or the other), like I did in the East. Next week, maybe.

The battle remains in those 5-9 spots, and with San Antonio’s recent form, I think we’re close to knowing who the playoff field is going to be, with SAFC missing out on the heels of a couple pretty bad weeks. The order among them (and then also between the top two, and Real Monarchs seem poised to let Sacramento challenge them for second-round homefield position).

There’s a lot of jockeying going on in that middle ground, with St. Louis the hotter team among them right now, on three straight weeks of rising up – going in the opposite direction of a San Antonio team that seemed comfortably ahead of them not too long ago.

LA Galaxy II remain perfect to their brand by being both incredibly predictable on a macro level (insane week-to-week results and a lot of goals) while being incredibly unpredictable (6-1 win over Real Monarchs!) on a micro level. I dig it. #Efra4USMNT, by the way.

Tulsa is no longer in the cellar despite going 0-1-1 this week, losing to Sacramento and tying Swope. They have the Sounders’ loss to RGV to thank for that.

Pure Power

This rating method uses almost an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

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Lots of shakeup here, with results both expected and unexpected playing into varying degrees of movement. Phoenix passes Orange County for the No. 2 spot in USL, which (given that they’re now projects to finish behind them in the table) should make for an interesting last couple weeks at the top of the West.

Portland passes the Monarchs – who appear to be sort of terrible? – Bethlehem slides past a Nashville team that went 0-1-1 in two home games this week, RGV and Swope move past the sinking San Antonio, etc.

The biggest move of the week is a six-spot drop for Reno… despite their only result being a draw. That draw did come to a Vegas team that is bad generally and particularly so on the road, of course. The bigger issue is slight impact from the out-of-town scoreboard (their 3-0 win over Real Monarchs is greatly diminished by the Monarchs being the type of team that can lose to the Galaxy by five goals) and the teams around them in the rankings moving up in raw numbers. It is a drop, but not as big a one in the components as it turns out to be on the table.

The other is a drop for Ottawa, which loses four positions after getting thrashed 4-0 by a Louisville City team that is obviously quite good, but is considerably less so at home. That makes a bit more sense in the bigger scheme.

Looking at the pretty shading, your individual component outliers in comparison to where a team sits on the table are Salt Lake City’s road form, Nashville’s offense (shocker!), Red Bulls’ offense (for the positive – even though they’re still in the top 16 overall, the O is second-best in the league), Reno’s road form, and the defenses of both Colorado Springs and Ottawa.

Playoffs?

A minor point of clarification on these – they don’t take into account tiebreakers, so the “best” assumes being the top team in any multi-way tie, whereas “worst” assumes being the bottom team in any multi-way tie. Portland, for example, can finish as low as a tie for eighth… but on tiebreakers, they’ve already clinched playoff position.

Everybody in play in the East except for Cincinnati (already clinched, and already clinched first) and Richmond Toronto (already eliminated). Louisville will clinch with its next point (or dropped points from at least one of Nashville/North Carolina/New York/Bethlehem), whereas Atlanta United 2 is any missed points (or a single NCFC/Ottawa point) from being out.

Four teams have clinched on points in the West, while, as mentioned above, Portland has actually already clinched on tiebreakers. Seven teams have already been officially eliminated (which speaks to the stratification in the table mentioned in the Table Power section). OKC can’t quite be eliminated from contention in the midweek, and as mentioned in multiple previous sections, San Antonio is hanging onto hope for grabbing that final spot. Swope is a win away from clinching, while St. Louis is a win and a San Anotnio loss away.

What it means for Nashville SC

Not getting at least two points out of last week was pretty tough, but it doesn’t change the projections all that much. Yes, it makes the margin for error quite a bit smaller, but NSC is still headed for the same position. They also retain at least one gam in-hand on every team in the playoff hunt except North Carolina FC, so if they can finally, you know, make those games in-hand matter (Gary Smith mentioned this in his postgame Saturday), it should be fairly safe.

Sliding down the Pure Power table (which predicts game-to-game quality, rather than projecting the table) is a little worrisome, because it could mean that the Steel have a better run to finish the season than Nashville does on current form. The Steel are one of those teams jockeying for the final couple playoff spots.

Of course, with Atlanta, Toronto, and Richmond all coming up, Nashville simply needs to take care of business to make the playoffs – a loss against any of those three teams is bordering on inexcusable (even though NSC already has lost to Toronto once this year), and certainly so when the Boys in Gold are trying to fight for their playoff lives.

Win those, and the Red Bulls game (which comes after only the trip to Atlanta) is a true six-pointer. A win would all-but seal Nashville passing NYRBII on the final table. For now, the focus has to be – and this sounds like coach-speak, but it’s not, because Nashville has proven to be vulnerable in these situations – on taking care of business against Atlanta, otherwise the rest of it begins to become irrelevant.

USL Power ratings: Sept. 17, 2018

Mostly a chalk-ish week, but some interesting swings in the USL. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 3.11 – 77 projected points
  2. Louisville 2.45 – 61 projected points
  3. Pittsburgh 2.39 – 59 projected points
  4. Charleston 2.36 – 59 projected points
  5. Indianapolis 2.12 – 53 projected points
  6. Nashville 2.05 – 51 projected points
  7. Bethlehem 1.93 (+1) – 48 projected points
  8. NYRB 1.89 (-1) – 47 projected points*
  9. North Carolina 1.84 (+1) – 46 projected points
  10. Ottawa 1.82 (-1) – 45 projected points
  11. Charlotte 1.68 – 42 projected points
  12. Penn 1.62 – 40 projected points
  13. Tampa Bay 1.61 – 42 projected points*
  14. Atlanta 1.18 – 29 projected points
  15. Richmond 1.03 – 26 projected points
  16. Toronto 0.64 – 16 projected points

*I’ve now baked in the non-conference results for NYRBII (draw against LA Galaxy II) and Tampa Bay (win over Real Monarchs) into the projected point totals, though they aren’t reflected in the ratings themselves.

There wasn’t a ton of shakeup here, though we were thisclose to getting Toronto back on the bottom of the chart (they led Cincy on the road in the 79th minute before giving up two goals to lose it). TFCII is a legitimate team at this point in the season – frustrating for those who have to play them in the stretch run – and if they hadn’t started so bad, they’d easily be ahead of Richmond, and probably ahead of ATL UTD 2, as well.

In more impactful games – you know, the ones that were going to be able to budge either team out of their current position on the table – Red Bulls drew TFCII in the midweek (like I said: not a bad team anymore), which incremented the Baby Bulls slightly down. Combined with an idle Bethlehem Steel and a win for North Carolina over Penn (and the expected win for Ottawa over Richmond), and there’s a real dogfight for the final two playoff positions between four teams.

You can see some pretty distinct tier, with Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Charleston relatively safe in the three first-round host spots, Nashville and Indy pretty safely in the playoffs barring a tanking the rest of the way, and the quartet I just mentioned probably the only others with a serious shot at the postseason. Maybe Tampa makes a run (don’t start Tuesday pls) with new signings, but they have a ways to go.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Phoenix Rising 2.63 (+1) – 65 projected points
  2. Orange County 2.62 (+1) – 64 projected points
  3. Real Monarchs 2.62 (-2) – 62 projected points*
  4. Sacramento Republic 2.40 – 59 projected points
  5. Portland Timbers 2.24 (+1) – 55 projected points
  6. Reno 1868 2.21 (+2) – 54 projected points
  7. Swope Park 2.15 (-2) – 53 projected points
  8. St. Louis 2.09 (+1) – 51 projected points
  9. San Antonio 2.09 (-2) – 51 projected points
  10. OKC Energy 1.68 (+2) – 41 projected points
  11. Fresno FC 1.65 (-1) – 41 projected points
  12. Colorado Springs 1.59 (+1) – 39 projected points
  13. LA Galaxy II 1.54 (-2) – 38 projected points*
  14. Rio Grande Valley 1.39 – 34 projected points
  15. Las Vegas Lights 1.31 – 32 projected points
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.04 – 26 projected points
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 1.01 – 25 projected points

*As above, Real Monarchs’ projected points and LAGII’s include their non-conference results. That means the point totals won’t quite follow with the ratings themselves. 

The long-awaited “Real Monarchs no longer at the top” has come to fruition, and in the projected points, a loss that’s not accounted for in the calculations docks them another two points (without even getting into that it might be slightly more if the formulas knew it came to a Very Bad Eastern team). Phoenix and OC are barely differentiable, and a non-scientific perusal of their remaining schedules makes me think Rising’s additional point in this projection is likely to come true, if not be slightly conservative.

Reno climbed significantly mostly because Swope and San Antonio suffered losses, not because a win over LAGII is anything to write home about.

Swope’s loss wasn’t bad in the lens of what it tells us about a team’s overall quality, but certainly in “this is a team I’m competing with to get playoff position.” If the Rangers had been able to knock of STLFC, it would have nearly cemented them in the postseason (though they’re close anyway). San Antonio’s catastrophic loss to Tulsa is a much bigger deal: they’re the ninth team out of eight now, which is must be noted is not the spot you want to be in. A blitz to the end is not the time to lose to the worst team.

There’s still plenty of season left – though less so in the West, the conference is also prone to much crazier week-to-week swings – so other than “three-horse race at the top,” “Sacramento in fourth,” and “five teams for four spots,” the final playoff picture still looks up in the air. There are plenty of permutations possible within those categories.

Pure Power

This rating method uses almost an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 8.01.18 AM

Oooooh pretty colors. I shaded the components to make some trends (or data points that buck trends) a little easier to see. Louisville is bad at home, to a degree that’s unique among the top 11 teams – and certainly for one as good as they are away. Real Monarchs and Nashville SC are the only teams in the top 14 that are worse than average on the road (though neither by a huge amount). Nashville SC’s offense is by far the worst among the top 19 in USL – it say somethin’ about somethin’ that their defense is still good enough to place them in the top seven teams overall. As for week-to-week changes, you can now see those in the column with the purple (bad) and yellow (good) highlights.

A road draw for LCFC bumps them past the team they tied – and that was the first time Pittsburgh has given up two home goals all year. Indy takes a pretty large fall after losing to Penn FC (which moves up thanks to that game, despite a loss to North Carolina FC last night).

Fresno also moves down following its home loss to Orange County. Hardly shame in that 1-0 result, of course, but combined with the out-of-town scoreboard, it was enough to shake them up a bit. St. Louis moves up with the win over Swope.

Some less significant/impactful moves lower in the table outside of TORONTO FC II NO LONGER SECOND-WORST. Their 4-3 loss at Cincinnati was painfully close to earning a result (even a win, with a 79th-minute lead), but they were still solid enough in defeat to bump past Sounders 2. That makes Richmond about as close to second-bottom Seattle as Seattle is to No. 28 Atlanta. They bad (far worse than Toronto ever was this year, even when TFCII was far and away alone on points).

Playoffs?

I made pictures out of the discussion I’ve been having here in the past couple weeks:

You have current position on the far left, then the other columns are pretty self-explanatory. Nobody in the West is guaranteed playoff position yet, while nobody in the East outside of Cincinnati is guaranteed anything other than not finishing bottom three.

What it means for Nashville SC

The action around the USL was ultimately a mixed bag. Some teams in the playoff race dropped points, others who were potentially on the fringe earned crucial points, and the Boys in Gold sat at home preparing for Tuesday’s mid-week game.

That one should tell the whole story of how the remainder of the season should play out: if NSC gets all three points against Tampa, they’re in a battle for fourth or fifth position (though still most likely to finish sixth), and if they don’t, suddenly the scrap to remain in playoff position becomes real.

Everybody ahead of them in the table has 1-3 games in-hand conceded to Nashville, but the team also has to take advantage of those opportunities to gain points. Based on form over the season, they’ll be able to. The pessimistic fan certainly has reason to at least worry they won’t, though.

USL Power ratings: Sept. 10, 2018

As always, fun times in the USL. Real Monarchs no longer a lock for top of the West? More official playoff eliminations? Let’s gooooo. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year.

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USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 3.08 – 77 projected points
  2. Louisville 2.49 – 62 projected points
  3. Pittsburgh 2.39 – 60 projected points
  4. Charleston 2.36 – 59 projected points
  5. Indianapolis 2.20 – 55 projected points
  6. Nashville 2.05 – 51 projected points
  7. NYRB 1.95 – 49 projected points*
  8. Bethlehem 1.93 – 48 projected points
  9. Ottawa 1.77 (+1) – 44 projected points
  10. North Carolina 1.76 (-1) – 44 projected points
  11. Charlotte 1.68 (+1) – 42 projected points
  12. Penn 1.58 (-1) – 39 projected points
  13. Tampa Bay 1.53 – 38 projected points*
  14. Atlanta 1.24 – 31 projected points
  15. Richmond 1.07 – 27 projected points
  16. Toronto 0.62 – 15 projected points

*This method doesn’t include non-conference games, so NYRB2 and Tampa Bay, which tied LA Galaxy II and beat Real Monarchs respectively, should end up with slightly fewer (by about one) and more (by about two) points than projected, respectively. One game is within the margin of error that unbalanced schedules provide. 

The gulf between Cincinnati and everyone else continues to widen, even though FCC didn’t finish its victory over Louisville City (they’ll resume with a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute Tuesday) to count as an even greater positive. Louisville City, Pittsburgh, and Charleston remain basically in lock-step behind them. Indy also moved up in the raw numbers but stayed about the same distance behind that trio to keep a lock on fifth.

Nashville, Red Bulls, and Bethlehem also remained in lock-step, but moving slightly down this week, preserving the order and approximate distance between them, as well. On current form, they have pretty good distance on everyone below them, and should be comfortably the final three teams into the playoffs. Among that group, Nashville has the easiest schedule remaining (only Atlanta and Tampa, which aren’t sniffing the playoffs, have comparably easy remaining slates), so they should be able to keep top pecking order among the three, though they’ve given away too many points for fourth or fifth to look realistic.

Behind that group, Ottawa and North Carolina flipped positions, as did Charlotte and Penn, but barring a huge change in form, none of them (I have probably the most faith in Ottawa out of that group, as I’ve been maintaining for a while now, because they’ve played much better after a horrible run of form to start the year, but they’re giving that away lately) are competing for a playoff spot in any meaningful way.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 2.65 – 65 projected points*
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.63 – 65 projected points
  3. Orange County 2.59 – 64 projected points
  4. Sacramento Republic 2.40 – 59 projected points
  5. Swope Park 2.21 (+2) – 54 projected points
  6. Portland Timbers 2.20 – 54 projected points
  7. San Antonio 2.20 (+1) – 54 projected points
  8. Reno 1868 2.16 (-3) – 53 projected points
  9. St. Louis 2.01 – 49 projected points
  10. Fresno FC 1.67 – 42 projected points
  11. LA Galaxy II 1.64 (+2) – 40 projected points*
  12. OKC Energy 1.61 – 40 projected points
  13. Colorado Springs 1.60 (-2) – 39 projected points
  14. Rio Grande Valley 1.40 (+1) – 34 projected points
  15. Las Vegas Lights 1.35 (-1) – 33 projected points
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.07 – 26 projected points
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 0.89 – 22 projected points

As above, Real Monarchs’ projected points don’t include a loss to Tampa Bay – they should end up about two points below the projection. Similarly, LA Galaxy II’s draw against NYRBII is not accounted for, but it’s close enough to the expectation that it doesn’t affect the projected point total.

One team is the story of the week after beating the top two sides in the projected table and making a huge leap itself: San Antonio FC beat Real Monarchs Monday, and followed that up with a victory over Phoenix Rising Saturday. Even though they only gained one position out of it, their raw number went from “hard cap at eighth in the West” to “within a thousandth of a point from fifth place” in the blink of an eye.

Monarchs also followed that up with a loss to Rio Grande Valley, making for a very intriguing battle at the top of the conference. The teams right in that region have approximately even strength of schedule in the remaining handful of games – and remember, the West has fewer to play than the East, with as few as five still to play for OC – so the final order should come down to some exciting moments in the final days (plus Real losing to an awful Tampa team in the rare non-conference game).

That’s also true down the table, where the order of Nos. 5-9 is a bit more exciting than who’s actually going to be in or out of the playoffs. Though St. Louis’s knocking off Reno keeps them in reasonable striking distance in that ninth – it still looks like that’s where they’ll end up. They do have a relatively easy schedule could help them throw a wrench in the works, but the gap that’s opened up is a sizable one.

I’ve been touting Swope Park Rangers as a team with some upside in recent weeks, and that’s starting to come to fruition a bit. I do think they’ll stay on top of that triumvirate currently projected to finish on 54 points (though San Antonio’s leap and their possessing of the easiest remaining schedule among the three could affect that).

Pure Power

This rating method uses almost an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 7.58.11 AM.png

Orange County SC takes over the No. 2 spot in the USL after a big loss for Phoenix and OCSC’s recent return to form. Pittsburgh makes a big leap after not only a win against a decent Bethlehem Steel team, but a shellacking to the tune of 4-1.

The big gainer this week though, was weirdly Indy Eleven, which got a 3-0 win over New York Red Bull – a nice scoreline no doubt, but hardly something that should seriously move the needle after a home game. It was, however, Indy’s best home win of the year (primarily because they’ve been a pretty poor home team), and when you consider Red Bulls were one of the teams moving behind them – six-pointer! – while Fresno and Reno both took losses to teams below them in the power rankings… the picture starts to come together.

San Antonio predictably moves up the table, but wins against Real Monarchs and Phoenix Rising weren’t as impactful as I’d otherwise expect. Down the table, Penn FC’s loss to Atlanta United 2 not only bumped them from an outside shot to contend for the playoffs (barring a major change in form), it dropped them in the rankings in a big way.

Looking at the pure power marks, you can see some tiers solidifying themselves (albeit with some volatility in there, of course): Cincinnati stands alone, then the two best teams in the Western Conference, then Nos. 2 and 3 in the East, then a comfortable gap: I think you could say the top five are in a category to themselves, given that gap, There’s not much differentiation from Monarchs down to Charleston, then from Steel through Red Bulls is a tier of its own.

That’s, conveniently, 16 spots (i.e. the number of playoff teams), though that it includes nine teams in the East and seven in the West throws a minor wrench into the works of a nice simple cutoff. Of course, this isn’t a projected table rather than a power rank, so at least one of the best 16 teams as things stand today will be out of the playoffs. Sucks to suck, I guess. After that, things progress at a pretty even rate until you get to the worst four teams – and particularly the worst one team – in the league.

What it means for Nashville SC

Nashville stabilized with a road draw (ironically in as unstable a fashion as we’ve seen them get a result all year) at North Carolina FC. It wasn’t the ideal result, of course, but it allows them to maintain that No. 6 spot in the projections and No. 7 spot in the power rankings with seven games to play.

Those final seven games are:

  • v. No. 13 (proj. East)/19 (pure power) Tampa Bay (a notably bad road team, but honestly one that scares the crap out of me because it can score)
  • v. No. 4/9 Charleston (a potential six-pointer if NSC takes care of business next Tuesday)
  • @ No. 14/28 Atlanta United 2
  • v. No. 7/16 NYRBII (another notably bad road team)
  • @ No. 15/33 Richmond (the worst team in USL by a large margin)
  • v. No. 16/32 Toronto FC 2 (the second-worst team by a decent margin)
  • v. No. 1/1 FC Cincinnati

That’s five should-wins (two of which wouldn’t be catastrophic if they were draws), one game that’s a potential six-pointer and should be extremely competitive, and the best team in USL. Going 3-1-3 in the home stretch would be about the expectation for NSC, and would see them finish on 51 points (about fifth place in the East, outside shot at fourth). Any better, and the season is an unmitigated success.

Anything worse (but within the realm of realistically predicted outcomes), and they’re bound for a first-round exit against the No. 1 seed (Cincinnati) or No. 2 seed (Louisville or Pittsburgh, though an regular-season loss to Charleston would see them have a chance to finish second – and they’re by far the least-scary potential option in that spot). That would be a decent first season for a squad that was outspent by the vast majority other independent USL teams – and finished in the standings only behind teams that outspent them (and well ahead of Tampa Bay, which probably spends more than every non-Cincy independent team combined. That sounds like hyperbole but it’s not. They have no excuse to be as bad as they were this season with an insane payroll like that).

It’s not what you want as a fan, but it’s a successful first season, especially with the hopes that the team will do an FCC-style scorched-Earth strategy in 2019, its final go-round in the USL.

Playoffs?

Cincinnati was officially in the playoff last week, and Toronto FC II’s loss to Ottawa sends them officially in the other direction: the max points they can finish with tops out at 36, and there are already nine teams in the East with more than that. The next point Richmond fails to gain (i.e. the next loss or draw) should see them join those ranks, with eighth-place Nashville already on 39 and the Kickers then topping out with 38. Saturday’s game against Ottawa means only a Richmond win can keep them alive for ninth place (currently in possession of that very Ottawa team), though obviously they’re going top finish in one of those bottom three spots when it comes down to it.

Pittsburgh (or Louisville, if they manage to come back and upset FCC in the continuation of Saturday’s game) should be next to clinch, though with all but the bottom three spots still technically available to them, there’s still a couple weeks to go before that stuff will become official.

In the West, we’re not quite at anybody being officially in, but we’re extremely close: with OC on 54 points and both Real Monarchs and Phoenix Rising on 53, the worst any of them could theoretically finish is tenth (they lose out and everyone behind them win out – not technically possible with every game to be played having at least one team that drops points, but there are too many permutations to figure it out. I would bet at least one of them is technically in at this point). San Antonio and/or St. Louis dropping points this week while any of the top three earn points should see at least one earn its berth in an official sense. The mid-week between Real and St. Louis can serve both of those functions.

On the bottom end, both Seattle and Tulsa are officially out of the running, with RGV a single non-win from joining them, in any practical sense.

USL Power ratings: Aug. 27, 2018

You will note that today is not Sept. 3. However, in the interest of keeping up with weekly rankings, these include only games through Sunday. The handful of games since will be reflected in next week’s rankings. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the content on USL, US Soccer, and Nashville SC.

Table Power

This rating method counts only opposition played and points attained in a given game – it is best used as a proxy for how the table is likely to play out at the end of the year.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 12.18.38 PM.png

USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 3.07 – 76 projected points
  2. Louisville 2.48 – 62 projected points
  3. Pittsburgh 2.33 – 58 projected points
  4. Charleston 2.31 – 58 projected points
  5. Indianapolis 2.12 – 53 projected points
  6. Nashville 2.07 – 52 projected points
  7. NYRB 2.01 (+1) – 50 projected points
  8. Bethlehem 1.97 (-1) – 49 projected points
  9. North Carolina 1.77 – 44 projected points
  10. Ottawa 1.73 – 43 projected points
  11. Penn 1.67 – 41 projected points
  12. Charlotte 1.61 – 40 projected points
  13. Tampa Bay 1.57 – 39 projected points
  14. Atlanta 1.12 (+1) – 28 projected points
  15. Richmond 1.12 (-1) – 28 projected points
  16. Toronto 0.64 – 16 projected points

Even though it was a volatile week in the East, there weren’t many switches in the rankings: that’s largely because a group of teams in the top tier all gave up results at the same time, and the teams in the lower tiers all earned some at the same time: the gap was mostly large enough that they didn’t converge much, and the teams from the respective tiers moved together. Bethlehem sliding behind NYRBII and Atlanta inching past Richmond are the only flips.

That said, even with some points given up by 2-6 in the table, none of them looks to be in particular risk of missing the playoffs, because there’s a decent-sized gap between No. 8 Bethlehem and No. 9 North Carolina. The Red Bulls and Steel could maybe drop below NCFC… it would take a precipitous fall for Indy or Nashville to do the same.

Since this set of rankings doesn’t take venue into account, keep an eye on Penn over the remainder of the season. They’ve played their final away game and have nine straight at home to close out the year.

You’ll notice that I’m now including projected points here: that’s a simple calculation of assuming everyone’s schedule strength will converge to about the same point (while three-plays make it so it’s not a pure “everybody plays everybody” situation). Cincy is projected to get 16 points in its final seven games, while Toronto is projected for four in its next nine outings.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 2.81 – 69 projected points
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.60 – 64 projected points
  3. Orange County 2.51 – 62 projected poins
  4. Sacramento Republic 2.38 – 59 projected points
  5. Reno 1868 2.27 – 56 projected points
  6. Portland Timbers 2.21 – 55 projected points
  7. Swope Park 2.14 – 53 projected points
  8. San Antonio 1.98 (+1) – 49 projected points
  9. St. Louis 1.92 (-1) – 47 projected points
  10. Fresno FC 1.74 – 43 projected points
  11. Colorado Springs 1.59 (+1) – 39 projected points
  12. OKC Energy 1.58 (-1) – 39 projected points
  13. LA Galaxy II 1.55 – 38 projected points
  14. Las Vegas Lights 1.41 – 35 projected points
  15. Rio Grande Valley 1.29 – 32 projected points
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.11 – 27 projected points
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 0.95 – 24 projected points

There wasn’t a ton of change in the West either, which was kinda sad given that it’s known for being quite a bit zanier on a week-to-week basis. Monarchs once again get dragged back to the pack a bit (loss to Colorado Springs), but the teams shortly behind them don’t seem intent on making up that ground (aside from Phoenix, who didn’t play last week). Buncha Nashvilles, that group.

With Swope’s expected climb as the schedule has gotten a bit easier, they are pretty close to being safely in the playoffs at this point, and they’d really have to tank their final six games to not do so – they have Tulsa and L.A., but also the San Antonio and St. Louis teams that they’re trying to keep out of the top eight spots. Should be a great competition for those final playoff positions to the end.

The bottom remains worse than the non-Toronto bottom of the East, but it’s close enough that they’re likely reasonably competitive.

Pure Power

This rating method uses almost an opposite philosophy: focusing only on goals scored for/against in each game, without attention to individual results. It looks at the quality of offensive and defensive performance against each given opponent, with a home/road component attached. It’s more effective for predictive purposes in single games, rather than necessarily projecting the end-of-year table.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 12.12.06 PM.png

Despite its frustrating loss to Charlotte, Nashville moves up two spots on account of finally running up the score once this year in their 4-0 win over Richmond. That also serves to solidify Richmond as far and away the worst team in the league (even though they’ll likely finish ahead of Toronto in the table).

Bethlehem drops a couple spots for getting blasted at home by Penn FC, which also facilitated a nice climb for the City Islanders. Fresno also climbed three spots, but that was more a matter of circumstance than their home draw against Reno being all that good a result.

Biggest rise of the week was four spots for that Reno team (which also beat Vegas 2-1, and presumably got some help from the out-of-town scoreboard), and the biggest fall North Carolina, who lost 3-0 to the second-worst road team among non-terrible sides in Tampa Bay. The Rowdies’ margin of victory actually improved their standing in that regard, but I wouldn’t bet on them to do it consistently.

What it means for Nashville SC

The Boys in Gold have a frustrating tendency to follow the trend and drop points when the teams around them in the table are also doing so, preventing them from making up and ground.

With basically the easiest schedule possible to close out the year in terms of opposition (the worst three teams in the East once apiece, and while they do play FC Cincinnati, that can only lose them three total points, of course), finding a run of form could help them overachieve the current projections. They could also do things like “lose to Toronto.” Anywhere between fifth and seventh seems reasonable.

A trip to North Carolina this weekend is followed by a long gap – no game the following week at all before a midweek – which could help get healthy, find form, etc. Hitting a six-pointer against Charleston (at home) could help them potentially make a case for fourth in the conference.

Playoffs?

Cincinnati is officially in the Eastern Conference playoffs, sitting on 60 points and only seven other teams capable of reaching that mark. Others are still a long way away from clinching playoff berths, which speaks to the gap FCC has opened up at the top of the league.

Toronto will be officially eliminated with their next non-win, or with Nashville earning two points, Ottawa earning five, or North Carolina getting six. The first of those three could happen as soon as tomorrow, with TCFII taking on Ottawa. The team with the second-lowest upside in the East is Richmond, but at this point they’re capable of getting to 43 points if they win out – still a ways off from official elimination (probably two weeks).

The West is less top-heavy, with Real Monarchs still technically capable of finishing as low as 11th (which is saying something, given the gap that had on the field earlier in the season). They’re probably one win and a couple favorable results elsewhere away from clinching, however.

Tulsa and S2 are also still alive in the most technical sense, but like with Real Monarchs in the opposite direction, could each be a couple results away from official playoff elimination. A draw in their game against each other tonight would bring it to