Well, dear reader, there’s a bit of a lull in Revs’ news at the moment.
That may be a good thing, given the kinds of news that have transpired since my last article.
— Cursed Revs (@cursedrevs) August 1, 2023
Djordje Petrovic held out of practice after New England declined offers from England and France for the Serbian Goalkeeper, missing a game as a result.
New England crashed out of the Leagues Cup, falling in penalties to Queretaro a week ago.
Brandon Bye sustained a season-ending injury, and Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and (apparently) Tomas Chancalay all sustained short-term injuries.
I’m told the injury that forced Tomás Chancalay off in the first half is a thigh contusion and is not expected to be serious. #NERevs
— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) August 14, 2023
At the time of writing, there’s still no information available regarding the ongoing investigation into Bruce Arena. He nevertheless remains on administrative leave, with Ritchie Williams and Curt Onalfo taking the reins.
Given it’s a slower news week, and we could use some distraction anyways, let’s take a look at some power rankings data to see if we can establish any trends or narratives.
Wait, Power Rankings as Data?
Power rankings are kind of a touchy subject because they’re not data in the traditional sense. That’s because they often try to account for some element of opinion within the rankings. Sometimes, they’re entirely based upon the ranker’s opinion, in fact. They can be based entirely on stats and numbers; there are many good examples of that, but what data is used and how it’s weighted are inherently subjective.
In my case, I’m pulling the rankings data from the mothership: MLSSoccer.com. I use this source for a few reasons. A) they release rankings on a fairly regular basis, and B) They appear to consult a large number of experts for each rank.
From the Power Rankings introductory blurb by J. Sam Jones:
“The Power Rankings are voted on by like 15 people, and the author would really like you to know it’s not entirely his fault…”
As vague as that may be, it indicates that there’s at least some sort of consensus of experts, either by vote or by average. That should help mitigate any individual subjectivity and make it less prone to reactive swings.
At the end of the day, though, these rankings are subjective. Taken as data, it says less about the teams themselves and more about how those teams are perceived. Y’know, how the vibes are.
Stick enough of those vibes together, however, and we can start to see some interesting narratives emerge.
East vs. West
One interesting way to sort the power rankings data is by conference.
Revs fans may remember, during their 2021 Supporter’s Shield run, a prevailing narrative that the Western Conference was better.
The better teams played in the west, and seeing as there was little cross-conference play, the Revs took the easy way to the title.
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) October 28, 2021
2021 was a strange one. There were few cross-conference games, making the Eastern and Western conferences basically separate leagues.
The East was more evenly contested, and the West had a larger gap between the best and the worst.
It has been the opposite in 2023. The East currently has 4 of the top 5 teams in the SS standings and 3 of the bottom 5.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 16, 2023
The West fills out large swathes of the middle. The narrative a few years ago was that the conference with the bigger quality delta from top to bottom (the West in 2021) was the better conference.
Power rankings seem to indicate that’s true again in 2023, with the Eastern Conference’s average power ranking position being better than the Western Conference’s average power ranking all season.
This chart shows the week-by-week average ranking for all EC teams combined vs. all WC teams combined. For the entirety of the season, the East has come out ahead, though the West significantly closed the gap within the last week.
For what it’s worth, we do have significantly more head-to-head data this season, and that data support’s the East’s dominance. In 63 games, Eastern Conference teams have defeated Western Conference teams 28 times, with a cross-conference record of 28-24-14.
The head-to-head also supports the gap narrowing, with the West winning 7 of the last 9 matches.
Steady As She Goes
Few teams have been consistently bad, but there are a handful of teams that have been consistently good. That has been noticed by the rankers.
Cincinnati, Nashville, Dallas, LAFC, and Seattle have all mostly met expectations this season. Those 5 teams have the lowest deviation in their rankings across the length of the season so far.
There’s no arguing that Cincinnati has been consistently good. For the most part, so have LAFC. Seattle, Nashville, and Dallas have had their ups and downs but mostly meet their expectations.
Just behind them in terms of consistency is the Colorado Rapids, who have unfortunately been consistently bad. Recent changes in fortune from teams like Sporting KC and the LA Galaxy also have them missing the mark for consistency.
On the other end, we have clubs with very high standard deviation within their rankings this season. Part of this is likely due to teams failing to meet early-season expectations, but there have been some up-and-down stretches among this group.
Miami, in particular, has been a bit of a rollercoaster this year. A pair of impressive win streaks surrounded by depressing losing streaks saw their rankings fly dramatically in both directions. Expect another sharp upturn (won’t be surprised to see them top-5 next week) with the addition of Messi and Co.
Meanwhile, Austin is slowly re-gaining momentum after a disappointing start to the year. NYCFC rode expectations of City Football Group scouted reinforcements for a while, but those reinforcements didn’t come until late.
The biggest surprises, perhaps, are how good St Louis has been and how atrociously bad the LA Galaxy has been. The Galaxy started the year with a ranking of 8th best and (at several points) have fallen all the way to the back of the pack, 29th. St Louis did the opposite, starting in last place and rising as high as 2nd on a few occasions.
Preseason Rankings Mean Nothing
No fanbase has more reason to feel slighted by preseason rankings than St Louis.
They have the largest gap between their preseason ranking and their current ranking, a 27-spot difference.
The Revolution and DC United have gained the second most spots since preseason, each resting 14 spots above the earliest rankings.
On the flip side, Portland has disappointed (14 spots below preseason ranks) but not as badly as Toronto FC. The Reds began the season with reasonably high hopes, sitting at 10th in the preseason power rankings. They’ve since fallen apart, had semi-public infighting, fired their manager, sold off major portions of their team, and currently occupy the last spot in the rankings.
Averages and Tiers
Another exercise would be to use the power rankings as well, rankings.
When you average each team’s weekly ranking over the full season, the table looks like this:
|Average Power Ranking
It’s obviously not super representative of the way things are at this moment, but given they average the whole season, they do give us a sense of how teams have looked in 2023.
There are also some pretty clear tiers.
- FC Cincinnati
Could Win It
- Seattle Sounders
- Philadelphia Union
- New England Revolution
- Nashville SC
In the Hunt
- St Louis City
- Columbus Crew
- Atlanta United
- FC Dallas
- Orlando City
- San Jose Earthquakes
- NY Red Bulls
- Minnesota United
- Vancouver Whitecaps
- Austin FC
- DC United
- Houston Dynamo
Maybe Next Year
- Portland Timbers
- Toronto FC
- LA Galaxy
- Charlotte FC
- Sporting Kansas City
- Chicago Fire
- CF Montreal
- Colorado Rapids
- Real Salt Lake – Originally in “maybe next year” but had a big summer window
- Inter Miami – Originally in “maybe next year” but had a big Messi window