Photo: Paul Rudderow
In 2011, DC United and the Philadelphia Union were the most improved teams in MLS. DC improved by 0.41 points per game (PPG) and Philadelphia improved by 0.38 points per game, they were the 5th and 6th biggest point/game gains since 2008.
This past winter, DC went all-in with their top scorer Dwayne De Rosario. The Union did something else.
Now, about a third of the way into the new year, DC is atop the Eastern Conference standings and the Union need to don their Sporting KC masks and pull off an epic run to make the playoffs.
Through twelves matches in 2012, the Union are averaging 0.73 points/game. If they finish the season at the same level, it will be the worst points/game change since 2008 by a relatively wide margin.
But haven’t we wallowed in the current team’s failures enough already? Let’s see what it will take for the Union to get back in the good graces of the playoff gods.
Points per game: How much is enough?
Since 2009, no team has qualified for the playoffs with a lower PPG than last year’s New York Red Bulls (1.35 points/game). The Union are currently sitting on approximately 0.73 points per game through twelve matches. To reach that minimum threshold they need to average 1.65 points/game through the rest of the season.
This number may not seem that outlandish but it’s almost exactly the PPG of the 2011 Union team through its first 11 matches, arguably (actually, not arguably) the best run in the club’s young history. And remember: This is just what needs to happen for the team to reach the minimum PPG of any playoff team since 2009.
Sporting KC did it, why can’t us?
Well, you say, there is precedent for a run. Just look at 2011′s Sporting Kansas City side. That team won the Eastern Conference despite opening the season with a paltry 0.30 points/game through their first ten contests. KC finished last year averaging 1.50 points/game, powered by the league’s fourth best home record.
Over the final 24 matches of the 2011 season, Sporting KC averaged a whopping 1.875 points/game. To put that in perspective, once they moved into Livestrong Park, Sporting Kansas City became the 4th best team in MLS since 2008.
A large part of Sporting KC’s success came from their stellar home record. Fourth best in MLS, the mid-westerners averaged 1.94 points/game in Livestrong Park. Only LA, Real Salt Lake and Houston (all at or above 2.0 PPG) were better. The Union’s 1.76 PPG put them in the bottom half in terms of home records, despite finishing with only one defeat at PPL Park.
Home is where the points are
And here, unfortunately, we stumble across another worrying trend for Philadelphia. Since 2008, only two playoff teams have finished with a home PPG less than 1.59 (2008 New England, 2009 Chicago).
So let’s assume that 1.60 is the magic number the Union have to hit in terms of home PPG. Through 5 matches at PPL this season the team is sitting at an ugly 0.80 points/game. Want to take a few deep breaths before finding out how the Union need to finish the home season in order to reach that 1.60 plateau? Go ahead. I’ll be right here [Hums "High Hopes"]
1.93 points/home game.
And again, that’s just meeting the minimum.
Keep in mind that Peter Nowak has struggled through slow starts before. The 2004 DC United team that won the MLS Cup started 3-5-3, going 2-2-1 at home. Still, for those of you counting at home, that’s 1.09 points/game, which is well ahead of the Union’s current 0.73.
Plenty of games still left to play, right?