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Introducing the All-New, Needlessly Complex and yet Overly Simple B&RU MLS Mathematical Power Rankings

Ben Olsen engaging in the real American Pastime: arguing about sports
Ben Olsen engaging in the real American Pastime: arguing about sports

No Reax column from me this week - I really couldn't put my feelings about referee Jasen Anno's decision-making (or lack thereof) any better than Martin has in this space or Duncan has over at Waking the Red. And I've done enough stewing on this subject to realize that writing about it will be anything but cathartic - though the targeted spree of pranks against incompetent officials that would follow surely would be. As for the rest of Saturday night's events at RFK, well, DeRo +3, Andy Iro -2, and I'm with Benny. (Oh, and hurry back from Philly Bill; we're going to need you more than we realized.)

So, instead of trying to make sense of referees' imbecilic decisions, and in lieu of my own imbecilic making fun of their names, I'll pivot here to the introduction of a mathematical MLS power ranking. It's a bit rudimentary still, and I'll be happy to listen to arguments for changing the algorithm, but I'm pretty happy with its simplicity. I've been keeping it up privately for the past several weeks, and it generally jibes pretty closely with the general consensus, so let's run with it and see where we get.

I'll unveil the inaugural edition and discuss the specifics after the jump.

The Formula

You didn't think I'd get to the good part straight away did you? Like any villain, I've got to draw this out and explain my dastardly scheme. Start with points per game. In MLS's crazy schedule, we regularly look at situations where teams have games in hand over other teams around them in the standings - sometimes as many as four. This makes any in-season look at the table next to useless in figuring which teams are actually better or worse than anybody else. So let's even it out best we can by putting everybody on a per-game basis. Simple enough, right?

Well, in a perfect world, where I had much better programming ability and the mathematical skill of Ken Pomeroy, I'd be able to work out some kind of proper pythagorean winning percentage and find a proper algorithm with predictive power. But I don't, so basing things on points per game is as good as I get.

Next, there needs to be a proximity bias. In the standings, your first game counts every bit as much as your last, and that's the way it should be. But in the power rankings, I think we should give some extra emphasis to recent results as a representation of current form. So I worked in the points per game over each team's last 5 games to act as such an approximation.

And that's it. Like I said, it's admittedly rudimentary, but it's simple. Three quarters' weight on the total season, and one quarter's weight on recent form, a little mathematical operation to put it in American-friendly percent form, and we have ourselves a completely objective power ranking. Yeah, I'd have loved to put in some nice bells and whistles, like different weights for home games and road games, strength of the opponent, and other various whatnots. But I'm not entirely certain how to do all of that, and I don't have the data (or the time to properly compile and maintain the data) for that level of endeavor, so simple it is.

The List

Without further ado, your Week 20 21 Power Rankings.

Full Table GP Pts Pace PPG L5 Pwr
 after games of Aug 7
1 Los Angeles Galaxy 25 48 65 1.92 2.40 .680
2 Seattle Sounders F.C. 24 41 58 1.71 2.00 .594
3 Real Salt Late 21 36 58 1.71 1.80 .579
4 F.C. Dallas 24 42 60 1.75 1.60 .571
5 Colorado Rapids 25 37 50 1.48 2.00 .537
6 Columbus Crew 23 34 50 1.48 1.40 .486
7 Philadelphia Union 22 33 51 1.50 1.20 .475
8 Sporting Kansas City 23 30 44 1.30 1.60 .459
9 D.C. United 21 27 44 1.29 1.60 .455
10 Chivas USA 23 29 43 1.26 1.60 .449
11 Houston Dynamo 23 28 41 1.22 1.60 .438
12 Portland Timbers 22 26 40 1.18 1.60 .429
13 Red Bull New York 24 30 43 1.25 0.40 .346
14 San Jose Earthquakes 23 25 37 1.09 0.60 .322
15 N.E. Revolution 23 21 31 0.91 1.00 .312
16 Vancouver Whitecaps 23 18 27 0.78 0.80 .262
17 Chicago Fire 22 19 29 0.86 0.40 .249
18 Toronto F.C. 25 20 27 0.80 0.40 .233

Quick Hits

  • Western Conference Dominance. Not three, not four, but five teams from the West to top the list. And it's not really debatable that they belong there. The next four slots are all Eastern teams, though, so I guess there's that.
  • The Brief and Wonderous Life of Red Bull Success. With a PPG of 1.25 for the year and less than half a point per game over their last five, it's no real surprise the Red Bulls are way down at 13th. With names like Henry, Marquez, and Rost, though, you can see why the fans up in Jersey have already started calling for the head of Hans Backe.
  • Top o' the Table, Running Away. The Galaxy really are head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of the league. Best PPG for the season, best record in their last five games. Especially following their win over Dallas this weekend, the Gals have to be run-away favorites to take the Supporters' Shield at this point.

So, what do you think? Let me hear it in the comments - tweaks to the formula? Anything really surprise you about the results?