Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Luchametric MLS Pre-Season Power Rankings: Houston and Crew to Vie for Supporters Shield

By El Chupa
These past few weeks, while El Luchador has been in the streets waging guerrilla war on the establishment, and the Major League Soccer season has hung in the balance, El Chupacabra has been scouting the league, reviewing his notes from last season, and analyzing the off-season moves by each MLS club. Now that El Luchador and his brothers-in-arms in the Players Union have emerged victorious, and the 2010 MLS season is set to kick-off this week, we present the patented Luchametric MLS Pre-Season Power Rankings.

If you happen to live in a jurisdiction where sports wagering is legal, these rankings are offered as a tool for handicapping the early MLS season, a period during which we will have little fresh data available to inform our predictions--and punts ("wagers" for our fellow American gaming enthusiasts). Pre-season rankings aren’t predictions--they’re observations. There are always “ifs” on each club, the season is long, and much can happen. We aren’t predicting the season will end in the following order, but this is how we think the league stacks up out of the gate. The Luchametric Institute for Advanced Sports Prediction Science is indemnified from liability for misuse of these powerful tools.  

Luchametric MLS Pre-Season Power Rankings
1. Houston
2. Columbus
3. LA
4. Seattle
6. Chicago
7. Colorado
8. D.C.
9. Real Salt Lake
10. Philly
11. Dallas
12. K.C.
13. New England
14. NYC
15. Toronto
16. San Jose

1. Houston – Houston finished second in the Luchametric Power Rankings last season, tying LA in the West with 48 points. Houston and LA were tied for second in the league overall behind the Crew. Houston are stingy on defense, giving up only .97 GA/GM (tied with Seattle for first in the league). Their 4.03 SOGA/GM puts them well below the league average of 4.8. Offseason they lost Holden and Clark but completed a trade for Kevin Harmse with LA. Harmse will add depth and toughness to the midfield. They also have just signed Jamaican International midfielder Lovel Palme. Even with the loss of two key players, we think with their defense and Ching and Landin leading the attack on a team with a Goal Differential last season of 10 (tied with the Crew for best in the league) and a unique home field advantage due to the scorching, humid Texas heat, Houston will make a run for both the MLS cup and the Supporters Shield.

2. Columbus – We’ve put the Crew second and feel strongly that last season’s slow start and weak finish were flukes. Their strong showing in their two CONCACAF Champions League games against Mexican side Tolouca was impressive. If Schelotto is healthy and can play all season; and if Lenhart and Rogers continue to mature, and if Sergio Herrera settles in and helps create up front, the Crew will again find themselves competing for both the MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield. We should know by the end of the first six games or so whether the real Crew is the team we saw in June and July—or September.

3. LA- The Galaxy finished third in the LM and tied for second in the league table with 48 points. Offseason they acquired Clint Mathis from MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake and three players on loan from Brazilian club Sao Paolo FC. Donovan is back from a stellar performance for Everton in the EPL and although Beckham is out indefinitely, LA’s overall production last season was excellent in spite of a dearth of goals. As such, should the acquisitions improve the team’s goal production, LA will be very tough.  They will have to hang tough while Donovan is in South Africa for the World Cup, however.

4. Seattle – The Sounders finished last season at the top of the Luchametric Power Rankings and fourth in the league table with 47 points. They were very tough on defense, giving up the fewest SOGA per game in the league and the fewest GA/GM in the league (tied with Houston at .97 GA/GM). As such, they were very tough to beat, amassing 11 draws. Off-season they needed to improve their attack, and they did, signing Swiss International Blaise Nkufo. He has been with Dutch First Division Club FC Twente since 2003 and has been their leading scorer each year since he joined. He is 34 (another aging European/South American player comes to the MLS) but he has nine goals in the Eredivisie this season and has scored in all six of Switzerland’s World Cup Qualifiers suggesting he is in fine form. He will finish the Dutch season before heading to South Africa and then joining the Sounders. If the Sounders can hang tough until mid-July, he should make an immediate impact.  If they had Nkufo from the first game, they'd be our number one.

 5. Chivas – The City of Angel’s “other” team (let's face it, LA's Mexican team), Chivas was a bit of a puzzle last season. The club was tied with Dallas and New York for the fewest number of draws at 6, but the club still managed to produce 45 points. The club either won or lost virtually every time it went out, testing the theory that a team needs to settle for draws if it hopes to succeed over the long haul. The club scored only 34 Goals, below the league average of 38, but gave up only 31, much better than the league average of 38. Their ability to shut down opposing teams was their greatest strength last season and perhaps explains how they scratched out as many points as they did in spite of a less-than-impressive offense. Their two major offseason signings, Osael Romero (Vista Hermosa - El Salvador) and Michael Umana (Liberia Mia - Costa Rica) don’t suggest there will be more goals for Chivas this season.

6. Chicago – The Fire finished fourth in the LM Rankings and tied with Chivas for fifth in the league table with 45 points. They certainly will be a different team without Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco, however.  Chicago had a hard time scoring at home last season, totaling only 16 GF compared to 23 GF on the road. They’re attacking style resulted in above average SOG and CKs, but they had a hard time finding the net overall. Offseason they signed Krzysztof Król on loan from the Polish first division to fill the left back position; Collins John, a Liberian-born Dutch striker with experience in both the EPL and the Eredivisie, but a player who has failed to stick anywhere he has played and who has a reputation as a bit of a head-case; and Julio Martinez, a Salvadorian International winger on loan from Mexican club Leon. If Martinez and John can add to the Fire’s attack and the team finds a suitable replacement for Blanco, Chicago may be in a position to improve on last season’s showing.

7. Colorado – The Rapids had a respectable season, earning 40 PTS and basically establishing the median line in the MLS table. They scored 1.4 G/GM and gave up 1.27. They had a lot of draws (10) but only 2 wins on the road and 10 losses. Both Colorado and Real Salt Lake enjoy substantial home field advantages due to their respective altitudes. But the Rapids’ offseason moves are unimpressive and a bit of a puzzle.  Conor Casey and Omar Cummings can score, and Ballouchy has potential.  So look for Colorado still to be tough at home and playoff bound, but not a serious threat to unseat the top teams in the table.

8. D.C. – El Chupa has had it in for DC since he heckled John Harkes at the very first Crew game back in the ‘Shoe. DC’s success has only made a bad relationship worse, which is one way of saying that DC still evokes fear in El Chupa. However, DC stunk last season. And when you watched them, you saw a team that couldn’t play as a unit and which was constantly bickering on the field. The offseason moves don’t indicate they’ve solved the puzzle. They essentially jettisoned most of last year’s team and other than Cristian Castillo, the offseason signings are uninspiring.

9. RSL – RSL played very well in the postseason. They earned 40 PTS in the regular season which was average. Kudos to the team for making a very good run when it mattered most. But we think that was a fluke and the loss of Mathis will hurt them.  The team made few moves in the offseason and looks like they are building for the future. We expect them to be average once again.  If they don't start winning on the road and away from the high elevation of Rio Tinto, they won't get the chance this year to peak at just the right moment.  And they won't take anybody by surprise and every team will be gunning for them.  Finally, white guys with dreads are like mimes: you see the damnedest things when you ain't got your shotgun. . . .

10. Philly – That’s right. Expansion Philly at No. 10. Why? They did well in the expansion draft. They have a brand new stadium. They will have big crowds all season, and they have a good chance to score goals with Le Toux, Moreno and prospective phenom Mwanga looking to put it in the back of the net.  Given the mediocrity of the teams in the bottom half of the league, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Philly make a run into the post-season. (Look what Seattle did in their first year). Caution has us putting them below the top eight, however.

11. Dallas – Dallas earned 39 PTS last season, one PT below the league average of 40. There are no indications that FCD has made the changes they needed to in order to improve on last year’s mediocrity.  They made few offseason acquisitions and are banking on the core team coming together and improving on last season.  Again, 39 PTS is not that far off the top of the league, and Dallas' strategy could pay off.
12. K.C. – KC signed some journeyman European players in the off-season but nothing to shout about. They amassed only 33 points last year, and we don’t see them doing much better this season.  Their temporary stadium is such an absolute abomination we refuse to watch any games broadcast from it.  Yeah, there's not much they can do about it.  But it's probably best just to avert thine eyes until things improve in KCK.

13. New England – The Revolution earned 42 PTS last season but were 11th in the LM rankings. Their off-season moves were principally spent signing young players in the Superdraft and we don’t see them doing much better this season than last.  42 PTS is, again, only 7 off the top of the league.  But still. . .

14. NYC – The Red Bulls are going to be better this season for two reasons: First: they can’t really be worse than they were last season; second: their new stadium will give them a bit of a bump at home. Juan Pablo Angel can score, but they need help in the midfield and at the back to stay in matches and produce chances.  There are a lot of ifs on this team.  They have a new and experienced coach in Hans Backe. Regardless, we see them remaining in the bottom half of the league table.

15. Toronto – 39 PTS last season and only 33 GF (league average: 38) and no significant offseason moves adds up to another postseason watching hockey.  Gerba and deRosario can score, but there are too many holes in the rest of the team.  They gave up 1.53 GA/GM last year and amassed 10 wins but suffered 11 losses.  Consistency will be the key, but we don't see them improving much.  Plus, their fans are drunken, loutish, mouth-breathers.

16. San Jose – Only one team was worse than San Jose last season (Red Bulls) and there are no signs that San Jose will be any better.  Sanchez brings experience and speed to the midfield and Alvarez could certainly mature.  Ryan Johnson is a great striker but the team as a whole needs to come together to give Ryan good service and to get any better than last season.  Unfortunately, they have a lot of tough teams ahead of them in the standings and on the schedule.

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