Thursday, June 04, 2009

MLS vs USL-1 reprise: The TFC era

Back in February, when we were all in the throes of CONCACAF Champions League fever, I made an attempt to bring some statistical reasoning to the then heated (and now heating) debate regarding the difference in quality between MLS and the United Soccer Leagues first division (USL-1). Here is that report.

I have a few regrets about the way that I conducted that study (read it for my methodology). First was that I counted matches decided on penalties as wins or losses, rather than as draws, which is how they should be counted. Second, that comparison spanned too great a period, during which time the strength of the A-League/USL-1 has fluctuated dramatically.

From a Canadian perspective, a convenient point to begin analyzing the data is the beginning of the Toronto FC era, namely 2007. The data over that period represents a fairly small sample size, but large enough, I think to begin to draw some conclusions. Here it is:

MLS results vs USL-1 sides
Year W D L
US Open Cup
2007 5 1 4
2008 4 2 2
Nutrilite Canadian Championship
2008 1 2 1
2009 2 0 1
Total 12 5 8

That 7 of the total 25 matches over this period involve Canadian USL-1 sides, perenially among the league's strongest, might seem to skew the results a little. On the other hand, only the top 8 teams in MLS qualify for the US Open Cup, meaning the MLS minnows, if there are such, don't have a chance to get exposed by stronger USL-1 teams.

The record of 12-5-8, in a league table, would be worth 41 points from 25 games, or 1.64 points per game (PPG). In the EPL this season the team that most closely approximated this PPG performance is 6th-placed Aston Villa (17-10-11 for 62 points from 38 games, or 1.63 PPG). Similar comparisons from other leagues yield:
Does it stand to reason that an average MLS team playing in USL-1 would finish in 6th place (or 3rd or 4th, adjusting for the size of the league)? Of course not!

Does this mean that the gap between an average MLS team and an average USL-1 side is less than the gap between the top team and bottom team in any Euro league? Yes, and I think we knew that all along!

Presumably I will stop caring about this once Montreal and Vancouver are in MLS. Unless Winnipeg has a USL-1 team by that point (I can dream, can't I?) in which case I will be shouting the praises of the Little League that Sometimes Can from the rooftops.

1 comment:

Pompey Canuck said...

When I look at these results I think a promotion/ relegation system could work. I would love to see the MLS / USL / PDL adopt a promotion and relegation system. Ideally discussions should get under way soon as USL continue to apply for MLS franchises. I am holding out hope that the MLS doesn't expand beyond 20 teams to the 30+ that other North American leagues have. If the MLS decides to cap the number of teams, then I think that cities that like football will look at the USL if that league becomes stronger then if there are two leagues with stadiums and fan bases etc in place then I think that promotion / relegation could work. I think that while the MLS & USL attracts new fans to the game, I would be surprised if a few years down the road that these same fans were unaware of the promotion and relegation systems that operate throughout the world. Granted I am most likely living in a dream world, but having a promotion relegation system would encourage a lot more cities to get a franchise, which would grow football throughout the continent.