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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

USL Power ratings: Aug. 27, 2018

Nashville’s (slight) drop continues, the East converging toward a top six, and the situation in the West remains hectic as always. 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 2.99
  2. Louisville 2.67
  3. Pittsburgh 2.36
  4. Charleston 2.31
  5. Indianapolis 2.19
  6. Nashville 2.13
  7. Bethlehem 2.05 (+2)
  8. NYRB 1.94 (-1)
  9. North Carolina 1.85 (+1)
  10. Ottawa 1.78 (-2)
  11. Penn 1.57 (+1)
  12. Charlotte 1.52 (-1)
  13. Tampa Bay 1.47
  14. Richmond 1.15
  15. Atlanta 1.03
  16. Toronto 0.52

As seems to be the case weekly, not a ton changed here. Indeed, one of the biggest moves (Bethlehem up two) came at the expense of another potential one (I haven’t run the full numbers, but I believe even a draw would have seen Nashville pass Indy). Regular readers know I’ve been a fan of Bethlehem disappointed that they couldn’t take that next step… but with six wins and a draw in the past seven, I guess they’ve done that. That the clincher came against Nashville… is unfortunate for the general subject matter of this blog.

Nashville’s three-week trendline is back down again, but I’d say the only truly bad result was Saturday’s loss to Bethlehem – and it’s easy to understand the mechanism through which that happened (60 minutes of 10-man soccer) is not likely to be replicated. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t count, but it’s not something I’d say is likely to happen with any regularity.

Other moves include a drop for Ottawa after getting blanked by a previously-struggling Penn team (that it was only impactful enough for Penn to move them past a poor Charlotte team should be telling), and a few minor shakeups down the line.

Bethlehem and NYRB2 are 7-8 in the projected standings at this point, and based on my personal feelingsball impressions of the league… that feels about right. I could see Bethlehem keep up its strong streak and take fifth or sixth, though there are enough games remaining that nobody except Cincy (and increasingly Louisville) feels locked into its current spot in the playoffs.

Obviously the bottom six-ish teams feel effectively eliminated at this time. (At least Cincinnati outspent Tampa Bay to save them the embarrassment of being by far the most expensive team in USL history… and also missing the playoffs?). We aren’t quite to “teams are officially eliminated from the playoffs” level yet, but that still doesn’t mean I’m adding Toronto’s trendline to the bottom of the chart. (We could have official “in” and “eliminated” teams as soon as next week, depending on results, by the way).

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 2.95
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.61 (+1)
  3. Orange County 2.57 (-1)
  4. Sacramento Republic 2.39 (+1)
  5. Reno 1868 2.25 (-1)
  6. Portland Timbers 2.13
  7. Swope Park 2.04 (+2)
  8. St. Louis 2.03
  9. San Antonio 1.90 (-2)
  10. Fresno FC 1.74
  11. OKC Energy 1.63 (+1)
  12. Colorado Springs 1.54 (-1)
  13. LA Galaxy II 1.46
  14. Las Vegas Lights 1.46
  15. Rio Grande Valley 1.34
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.06
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 1.00

Phoenix Rising returned to what feels like their rightful place as No. 2 in the West… thanks to an absolute head-scratcher from Orange County, which moves down after an absolute head-scratcher by losing(!) at home(!!) to a terrible Rio Grande Valley team(!!!).

Other changes are similarly small in scale, but feel significant with Sacramento moving up to third (they had been as high as second just a few weeks ago) after a narrow win over Reno. Swope Park moves into playoff range – as I predicted last week – though obviously I’m not super-confident they’ll remain there.

The top five, and maybe even the top six depending on how you feel about the Timbers, are safe, and it remains a three-horse race between Swope, St. Louis, and San Antonio for that final pair of playoff berths. There are enough high-leverage games remaining (Swope hosts both in the same week in mid-September, for example) that the final order can’t be predicted. Remember, just a couple weeks ago, San Antonio was on top of that pile – including over the Timbers – and now is playing the caboose.

LA was way less fun by suffering the expected blasting at the hands of RSL rather than their crazy penchant for upsetting or being upset in like 11-goal games. But that’s fine, just not fun. The bottom five-plus are effectively out of the hunt by now. That’s more true in the West than the East, where nearly 79% of total games have been played, compared to about 72% of Eastern Conference games already in the books. There are fewer games available to make up these gaps.

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 2018-08-26 at 8.57.18 PM.png

At this point in the year, it takes some wild scorelines to see the amount of swinging that we did this week. Phoenix’s 4-0 win over a mid-table Colorado explains the moves for both, Orange County suffered the aforementioned major upset, Pittsburgh drew a couple crappy teams at home, Reno suffered a big loss, etc.

There are nine Eastern Conference teams (and thus seven Western) in the top 16 – i.e. the deserving playoff teams – of the combined table, so if you take into account minor statistical weirdnesses (for example Nashville losing 2-0 to Toronto, though that particular one doesn’t affect the sample for this week’s swings, it’s certainly outside of the realm of the expected), we’re about even between the conferences.

Tampa Bay and Rio Grande’s huge climbs – for drawing Pittsburgh away and losing by a single goal Cincy at home, and tying LAGII and beating Orange County both away, respectively – are the bigger stories of the week. If those teams can bottle that form, maybe they win a few games to close the year… but I think the holes they’ve dug might be too much to be able to find playoff positioning.

What it means for Nashville SC

You are what your record says you are, and Nashville is still one of the better teams in the league, but not to the level the Boys in Gold had been earlier in the year. They are losing ground; but that’s different than “they now suck.” Losing to Bethlehem was a major missed opportunity – a win there would have had the current and projected tables looking pretty similar.

Still, NSC’s points per game is quite a bit rosier than what the strict points look like, and when you take into account that they’ve still played the toughest schedule in the East, things should level off a bit in the final 10 games (two against Richmond, home against Toronto, at home against New York and Tampa teams that travel pretty poorly, etc.) and if they take care of business, there’s little to worry about in terms of postseason play.

Yes, they do have to go out and win those games. Games in-hand are not guaranteed wins or even guaranteed points. But treating them like guaranteed losses is similarly incorrect (actually much more so, since the average Nashville game played is worth about 1.5 points, and that’s before playing two of the easiest three stretches on the schedule upcoming).

Beat Richmond as expected, and Nashville is easily back where the numbers say it should be. The expected is not always the outcome (and that cuts both ways – a road win at Pittsburgh and a loss to Toronto were unexpected in opposite directions), but over the course of the season, the highs and lows should average to a team that’s about sixth (with a chance to get as high as fourth) in the East.

USL Power ratings: Aug. 13, 2018

Nashville’s (slight) drop continues, the East converging toward a top six, and the situation in the West remains hectic as always. 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 2018-08-13 at 8.07.53 AM

USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 2.91
  2. Louisville 2.64
  3. Pittsburgh 2.51 (+1)
  4. Charleston 2.37 (-1)
  5. Nashville 2.22 (+1)
  6. Indianapolis 2.20 (-1)
  7. NYRB 1.94 (+1)
  8. Ottawa 1.89 (-1)
  9. Bethlehem 1.86
  10. North Carolina 1.85
  11. Charlotte 1.60
  12. Penn 1.59
  13. Tampa Bay 1.49
  14. Richmond 1.10
  15. Atlanta 1.03
  16. Toronto 0.58

I was tempted to re-scale the chart to include Toronto FC II after their second win of the season (over Richmond), but the distance between them and ATL UTD 2 is still enormous – it would be the largest gap between consecutive teams on the chart, almost 25% bigger than than huge hole between Tampa and Richmond – so I didn’t. The chart is more informative without that. But that I was considering it means something.

There were mostly minor shakeups in that 2-8 range, with Pittsburgh/Charleston flipping spots (Charleston’s rating actually dropped slightly despite a win, because Atlanta is such weak competition), Nashville’s 2-0 win over Ottawa moving them past idle Indy Eleven, and Red Bulls’ loss to Louisville not enough to drop them below Ottawa in the face of that result in Music City.

The big picture mostly remains the same: now that Louisville has stabilized after losing its coach, there’s a fairly solid top two, and there’s jockeying within the next four teams in what has been a comfortable top six ever since Charleston moved into it in early July. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how much of this resurgence from Charleston is permanent, and similarly if Nashville’s recovery from a drop of its own is permanent (if so, they were one of the better sides in the East before the slide) or if they’ll dip in form again. Either way, the top six seem in.

The next two spots have four teams realistically jockeying to make the playoffs, and it should end up being pretty close between them. I have more faith in Red Bulls, Ottawa, and Bethlehem than I do North Carolina FC, and despite the order of them today, I’d probably pick Bethlehem/NYRB as 7/8 over the course of the season. Ottawa’s recent form has been far better than their beginning to the season, though, and even though they’ll have ups and downs, perhaps they’ve smoothed out just how low those downs can go. Should be a thrilling stretch run among that group.

Tampa is awful, and the second most expensive team in the USL (I believe they were most expensive before Cincinnati’s recent signings, though much of that bill is tied up in one player, Joe Cole) has no excuses for being as bad as it is.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 2.93
  2. Orange County 2.56 (+2)
  3. Sacramento Republic 2.50 (-1)
  4. Phoenix Rising 2.41 (-1)
  5. Reno 1868 2.36
  6. San Antonio 2.11
  7. Portland Timbers 2.05 (+1)
  8. St. Louis 1.95 (+1)
  9. Swope Park 1.94 (-2)
  10. Fresno FC 1.67
  11. Colorado Springs 1.58
  12. Las Vegas Lights 1.54
  13. OKC Energy 1.48
  14. LA Galaxy II 1.36 (+1)
  15. Rio Grande Valley 1.27
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.16
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 1.06

It was a wild week in the West. Real Monarchs lost(!!) to a somewhat-crappy OKC Energy team(!!!). Orange County SC won a thriller in Phoenix to move into second position in the power rankings. Tulsa won(!) against what had been a decent Colorado Springs team climbing the table. Even when there weren’t a ton of position switches, there were big swings in teams’ raw scores.

The struggles continue for Swope Park Rangers, who were beaten at home by Timbers 2. Check out the trajectory of that line: it ain’t good. The good news for SPR is that six of their next seven are at home, so while we know that home games aren’t a guarantee (see: this weekend), they certainly have a better chance there than on the road. A rebound may be in the cards.

Based on most recent form, though, I’d have Swope, currently in the nine spot in the power rankings, not only maintaining that “not in the playoffs” status, but perhaps even getting further away from the Mendoza line there. If it holds true – and again, their upcoming stretch of home games has potential to change it – there’s a nice solid gap between the top eight and everyone but SPR: while there are bigger swings week-to-week in this conference, we seem to have at the very least settled into a top-nine, bottom-eight that looks clearly stratified. The wild swings become less so as each individual game has less of an impact on the season averages, so this could settle in.

At this point, I’m rooting for somebody to knock Real Monarchs out of the top spot, just because it’d be fun to see that happen after they had such a huge margin on the field earlier in the season. OCSC’s win hurt that cause slightly (Phoenix had been closer than them), but as we know from following the pure power method that we’re about to get into, Orange County has actually been the best team in USL for the past couple weeks…

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 2018-08-13 at 8.07.44 AM

It should come as no surprise that Orange County widened its gap atop USL, then. A road win (remember, this method accounts for location) against one of the other best teams in the league is pretty darn meaningful.

As you can see with the new column on the far right, tracking change in position, Louisville City is the big riser this week with a road win of its own. Scoring six goals in a venue where NYRBII hadn’t given up more than three all year will do that for you. Even giving up four wasn’t all that bad, given the Baby Bulls are a high-scoring outfit at home (that output is only a three-way tie for fifth-most scored at home this season for them).

Bethlehem Steel is also a big riser, not for its 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh Riverhounds, but for smacking Charlotte Independence 3-0 on the road (and Charlotte is an OK team there, though pretty bad away from the Queen City). To me, the loss to Pittsburgh isn’t even that bad – a one-goal margin to a team that wins by one or draws basically every game, regardless of venue – though I was surprised the numbers considered it almost a full standard deviation below the average performance.

Charleston Battery dropped a couple spots for only earning a 1-0 home win over Atlanta United 2 (Nashville fans feel your pain there), Indy dropped despite being idle on account of the out-of-town scoreboard, Red Bulls dropped a couple for being on the other side of Louisville’s big day, and the remaining changes happened far enough down the table as to be… I don’t want to say uninteresting, because that’s unfair to the fans of those teams, but certainly a little less relevant to the big picture of USL.

Toronto beat Richmond, solidifying that the Kickers are the worst team in all the land (and though only winning 1-0 at home was a below-average performance in the grand scheme, it was better than “loss to Toronto”‘s impact on Richmond’s averages – and again, Nashville fans feel the pain there).

What it means for Nashville SC

Is the slump over? It’s impossible to tell with just a two-game sample. Similarly, it was impossible to say Nashville would miss the playoffs because of a slump that included just a 1-2-2 record in the end (not ideal, obviously, especially against that competition, but 1.0 points per game in the worst stretch of your season isn’t a kiss of death).

What I’m trying to say here is that “what happened in the most recent game” and “what the season as a whole adds up to” are not the same thing. If your analysis fails to realize that, you are wrong. The flipside of that for the more recent results is similar to what I said in the above paragraph: we can’t tell if Nashville’s slump is over just because of a road draw against the East’s best team and a home win over an OK one. Even a loss in Louisville this weekend would be more in the “these are the expectations” category than a sign that the slump is ongoing. A win or draw would be enough for me to say NSC has re-found its form.

After this weekend’s game, though, Nashville has only one contest against teams better than it (hosting Charleston Sept. 22) before the season finale against Cincinnati. Similarly, seven of the final eleven games will be at home. If there’s a time to make a late run up the table, this is it. And if they begin it with a road result in Louisville – which as I’ve said I’m not really expecting – I could see a finish as high as third in the East.

USL Power ratings: Aug. 6, 2018

Nashville’s (slight) drop continues, the East converging toward a top six, and the situation in the West remains hectic as always. 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 2018-08-06 at 10.01.20 AM

USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 2.86
  2. Louisville 2.55
  3. Charleston 2.40
  4. Pittsburgh 2.35
  5. Indianapolis 2.18
  6. Nashville 2.12
  7. Ottawa 2.03
  8. NYRB 2.00
  9. Bethlehem 1.83
  10. North Carolina 1.75
  11. Charlotte 1.67
  12. Penn 1.61
  13. Tampa Bay 1.54
  14. Richmond 1.18
  15. Atlanta 1.04
  16. Toronto 0.43

See any deltas in teams’ rankings? You shouldn’t, because there aren’t any. This is the first time since I’ve been doing these posts (which dates back to week four or so, when every team had played at least two games) that there was a table without a single move. The raw numbers of some teams changed fairly significantly – mostly Penn and Tampa Bay dropping, while the Red Bulls and Ottawa sides that received respective wins over them climbed by similar margins.

Despite dropping home points to Nashville, Cincinnati remains the class of the league, and that shouldn’t change with the personnel additions they’ve made. The next tier is looking a little more nebulous than it had in a long time: the next four teams all saw slight drops, Nashville made a slight gain… and Ottawa and New York are hot on the trail in pursuit from behind. Do we have a clear top eight right now? I think so.

Of course, just a couple weeks ago I would have said Bethlehem was cementing its place in that top group (or at least close to it), so there’s still enough season left for plenty of volatility. It just didn’t happen this week.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 3.12
  2. Sacramento Republic 2.48 (+1)
  3. Phoenix Rising 2.45 (-1)
  4. Orange County 2.45
  5. Reno 1868 2.34
  6. San Antonio 2.24
  7. Swope Park 2.03
  8. Portland Timbers 1.95
  9. St. Louis 1.86 (+1)
  10. Fresno FC 1.74 (-1)
  11. Colorado Springs 1.64
  12. Las Vegas Lights 1.60
  13. OKC Energy 1.33
  14. Rio Grande Valley 1.31
  15. LA Galaxy II 1.23
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.00
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 0.91

There was only a tiny bit more volatility in the Western Conference: Sacramento and Phoenix switched spots, while St. Louis and Fresno did the same. It was mostly a chalky week in the USL, and that explains a lot of it.

How did Phoenix drop despite a 4-1 road win? Well, this method is blind to location and score – taking into account only result – so that’s easily explained. They played similar-quality teams, and the out-of-town scoreboard was just a little harsher to the Rising than to Sacramento. I wouldn’t read anything into it.

The Fresno loss drops them down, while St. Louis actually got a reasonable boost for beating an awful Sounders team. The math might be weird on that one (and again the out-of-town scoreboard comes into play), but improving their points per game by a pretty decent amount was more impactful than the harm by weakening their strength of schedule, I guess.

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 2018-08-06 at 10.18.31 AM

Things were similarly involatile over here, though with a bit more intrigue, because the margin of victory in some of the games (for example Phoenix’s aforementioned blasting) was a bit more intriguing than the outcome on the league table.

Louisville dropped a couple spots for a home draw against Indy, which actually moved Nashville back up past the Boys in Purple. The rubber match between the two in a couple weekends should be very intriguing.

Down the table, another big gainer was Ottawa, which is in very fine form lately. It takes a bit of the sting (though not enough) off the Nashville SC loss in Bytown. If Ottawa hadn’t started the year 0-4-2, they’d be considered one of the darlings of USL this year. A slow start will hopefully not be enough to keep them out of the playoffs, but it is going to hurt their seed in a big way.

Tampa Bay saw a continued drop – I always remain surprised that they’re as high in the power rankings as they are, because they just seem like a bad team, and a consistently bad team away from home, and have been all season. The early win over Real Monarchs and a 5-0 blasting of Ottawa early in the year are really propping up what has been one of the league’s worst teams since. Speaking of worst…

** TFCII NOT AT THE BOTTOM ANYMORE** Richmond’s been pretty close for a while, and TFCII coming off a big win over Nashville and a close loss to Pittsburgh is enough to bump them out of the cellar. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them return to it at some point, but really the bottom four teams are all equally bad to the point of being indistinguishable.

What it means for Nashville SC

A bounceback against the top team in the East may not portend a return to form for Nashville, but certainly it starts to provide a platform toward getting away from the stink of the previous four games worth of epic struggle… which underscores that it’s worth noting “the team was bad for four games in a row” is not the same as “the team is bad.”

The Pure Power table points out (and I illustrated with a graph last week) that Nashville has not been good, but that the depths of those struggles – even though they included a bad loss to Ottawa and a worse one to TFCII – have been overstated.

This team still needs to find a way to get goals. The offense is slightly better than Pittsburgh’s (obviously not doing it in quite as timely a fashion), but those are the only two teams in the top 14 with below-average offenses. A sign of life against Cincinnati is just that; Nashville has performed well against good teams all season, and recently has struggled against bad teams. No longer is “if they can do this against the best teams, they should destroy the bad ones!” a valid argument, because we’ve seen the latter not come to fruition, even if it follows logically, and should be the case.

They still have eight home games remaining and only five on the road: For the second-best home team in USL (and only 13th-best on the road), that’s a welcome slate. Time to collect these points.

USL Power ratings: July 30, 2018

Nashville’s (slight) drop continues, the East converging toward a top six, and the situation in the West remains hectic as always. 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 2018-07-30 at 7.33.45 AM

USL East power rankings:

  1. Cincinnati 2.90
  2. Louisville 2.61 (+1)
  3. Charleston 2.47 (+1)
  4. Pittsburgh 2.42 (-2)
  5. Indianapolis 2.19 (+1)
  6. Nashville 2.10 (-1)
  7. Ottawa 1.93
  8. NYRB 1.90
  9. Bethlehem 1.77
  10. North Carolina 1.74 (+3)
  11. Charlotte 1.69
  12. Penn 1.68 (-2)
  13. Tampa Bay 1.62 (-1)
  14. Richmond 1.29
  15. Atlanta 1.04
  16. Toronto 0.43

Nashville’s poor run of form has officially reached Problem Territory with a loss to Toronto FC II (though that loss is still not enough to bring TFCII close enough to the rest of the league to get me to bother adjusting the bottom of the table to include their trendline). I’ll have much more on NSC, the team of this blog’s primary focus, at the bottom of the post. It’s worth noting that Pittsburgh has taken a recent dive as well, and I’ll touch on that a bit more later, too.

North Carolina FC is a big climber with that win over Pittsburgh, jumping up three spots, while Penn takes a bit of a fall by drawing Charlotte and Tampa… if your home stadium is not going to be a fortress where teams are unable to steal points off you, this is all going to go very poorly. Heck, it was going pretty poorly even when that was still the case.

Mostly the expected just about everywhere else, though the rebound from Louisville City in the wake of losing its coach is a nice little bit of encouragement for fans of The Color Purple.

Pending a continuation of Nashville’s form, we’re still at a very clear top six, with the final two playoff teams in Ottawa and NYRB2 looking fairly solid – though I wouldn’t sleep on Bethlehem: it’s a team capable of going on a nice run… but also one capable of dropping of precipitously and immediately. Which hey, that sounds like NYRB2, heck, it sounds like Nashville at this point, and there’s still enough season left to play that nobody other than TFCII and probably Richmond (even Atlanta could #playthekids in USL for the rest of the year and win a bunch more games if it so chose) is completely out of the playoff hunt.

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USL West power rankings

  1. Real Monarchs 3.12
  2. Phoenix Rising 2.48
  3. Sacramento Republic 2.40 (+1)
  4. Orange County 2.38 (+1)
  5. Reno 1868 2.34 (-2)
  6. San Antonio 2.17 (+1)
  7. Swope Park 2.15 (-1)
  8. Portland Timbers 1.95 (+1)
  9. Fresno FC 1.80 (-1)
  10. St. Louis 1.79 (+1)
  11. Colorado Springs 1.56 (-1)
  12. Las Vegas Lights 1.51
  13. OKC Energy 1.39
  14. Rio Grande Valley 1.38 (+1)
  15. LA Galaxy II 1.25 (-1)
  16. Seattle Sounders 1.07
  17. Tulsa Roughnecks 0.90

A battle at the top of the table was enough for Real Monarchs to re-assert its dominance as the West’s best team. Had Phoenix beaten them, the margin at the top would have been razor thin, and instead the Butterflies have widened their lead back to where it had been a couple weeks ago. Lots of season left, etc. etc., but that should all-but seal a Western Conference championship barring major changes in form.

There were mostly small changes down the table, but Reno’s loss to St. Louis was enough to provide the only change of multiple positions in the West. As you can see from the graph, though, they went from “slim margin ahead of two teams that are effectively tied with each other” to “slim margin behind two teams that are effectively tied with each other.” There’s going to be a bit of jockeying in those spots over the next several weeks.

With a nice climb numerically from San Antonio (even though it only gained them one spot in the rankings) after wins over Colorado Springs and OKC, it’s looking like a top seven, whereas last week it was six-ish. I’m comfortable saying the five leading the way are relatively comfortable in playoff positions, and I actually do have confidence that if we had to call it today and set the playoff field, the true eight best teams would make it, with the Timbers 2 a deserving participant.

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 2018-07-30 at 8.05.22 AM.png

Real Monarchs’ not only beating, but banging on a Fellow Good Team in Phoenix gives them a big boost in these rankings (Cincinnati didn’t play, and primarily moves down because the out-of-town scoreboard made some of their previous results look slightly less impressive retroactively).

Nashville’s free-fall continues – they were first just a couple weeks ago! – after a very bad loss. I was actually surprised that the numbers didn’t think it was one of the worst results for any team this year: it was almost exactly two standard deviations below what you’d expect for an average team against TFCII, whereas such glistening results as “Atlanta loses 4-0 to North Carolina FC,” “Charlotte only manages a 2-2 draw against ALT UTD 2 at home,” and even “Bethlehem gives up a goal against Nashville SC at home” are all considered worse. I can certainly confirm that this feels like a bigger deal. That’s why we use the calculator, though: our emotions lie to us.

It’s still worth noting that over the course of the season, Nashville’s the seventh-best team in all of USL (fifth in the East), though obviously recent form is a different story.

North Carolina FC was your big gainer, with its win over Pittsburgh Riverhounds earning a +1.46 game score (their second-best of the year, behind a 3-1 road win in Richmond). Going the other direction was Ottawa, which dropped five spots after following a huge win over Nashville last week with Saturday’s 3-0 clunker against Louisville (and of course, their marquee win of the season also took a huge hit with such facts emerging as, “TFCII can also do it”).

A 3-0 loss for Richmond drops them back to second-worst in the USL and actually within spitting distance of TFCII now that the latter has picked up its first win of the year. They’re a pretty good distance from Atlanta, like Seattle and Tulsa are a pretty good distance behind the West’s third-worst in OKC.

What it means for Nashville SC

The fall continues, and it’s now officially a problem. It’s one thing to lose in Charlotte, or only score one home goal against Atlanta United 2 (especially given that the numbers don’t know that was a very different Baby Five Stripes squad than the one that’s played most of the year), and another entirely to lose to Toronto. Even Ottawa has been playing well lately, and losing up there stunk, but it happened in such a way that 90% of the time when a game plays out similarly, it’s a 1-0 Nashville win.

Over the course of the season, Nashville is still a very good team. Not having had an above-average result since July 7 – and that result still only being a tie, albeit against one of the best teams in USL – is still very worrisome. The three worst results of the year all coming in the past seven games is something, too.

I’ll delve a bit more into this in a post later today, but essentially it boils down to what proportion of the recent results you attribute to each of three factors: 1) this is just how good the team is and has been and the early-season results were fool’s gold 2) there has been a precipitous dropoff in the team’s quality that will persist through the end of the year, and 3) this is just a bit of crappy luck that is going to happen over the course of the season when you don’t outspend every team to ensure it doesn’t (that second part obviously tying into No. 1, as well).

Clearly, I’m more in the camps of the latter pair, though all three play something of a role. Take a look at Pittsburgh, for example: they looked like the Beast of the East just a couple weeks ago, and suddenly have back-to-back losses to a meh Charleston Battery and a bad NCFC. Does that mean they’re a bad team? No, it means that they have a poor run of form. It happens over the course of a season.

There’s stuff for Nashville to fix, but the sky is not falling. This recent “they will not make the playoffs” narrative among the more pessimistic portions of the fanbase is not only failing to understand broader context, but not an accurate depiction of reality at all (especially when NSC has made it very clear that they’re bringing in an international slot-requiring reinforcement very soon).