the tanner ba'

We are the Champions?

Worst. Band. Ever.

Worst. Band. Ever.

Earlier this week (or maybe last week, feel free to check) when I was writing about my desire to see Major League Soccer switch to a single table format with the attendant promotion and relegation I got to think about just how much doing that would matter. I think, generally speaking, most football fans want to best club in a league to win the league more often than not. Sure, it’s nice to have a little variety- a lesser known club that wins it all and the falls back into relative obscurity, a tight race to the finish in which one club beats out the other by the smallest of margins, etc.- but even if you don’t like the “best club” of the given moment, if they performed better over the course of the season and that results in winning the title, well, fair play to them.

The question that all of this raised for me is, has the conference/playoff system really denied any club their just rewards for their performance on the pitch over the course of a season? Sure, there are probably going to be a times when the “best” regular season club doesn’t win the championship- we all remember baseball’s 116 game-winning but non-World Series winning Seattle Mariners, don’t we?- but, on average, have things played out pretty much as would be expected in a single table system? Let’s take a look.

MLS CUP WINNERS (1996-2012)

4 L.A. Galaxy

4 D.C. United

2 San Jose Earthquakes

2 Houston Dynamo

1 Colorado Rapids

1 Real Salt Lake

1 Sporting Kansas City

1 Columbus Crew

1 Chicago Fire S.C.

SUPPORTER’S SHIELD WINNERS (most points, 1996-2012)

4 L.A. Galaxy

4 D.C. United

3 Columbus Crew

2 San Jose Earthquakes

1 Sporting Kansas City

1 Miami Fusion

1 Chicago Fire S.C.

1 Tampa Bay Mutiny

Note: Only in about a third of the seasons in question were the champions and the shield winners the same club- make of that what you will.

What does this comparison tell me? Not enough, unfortunately. Historically, the top teams are still the top teams- D.C. United and L.A. Galaxy. After that there is a group of clubs that have done better in different formats (Houston likes the playoffs, Columbus likes the regular season, etc.). Rounding out the group were the one-hit wonders- clubs that appear to have managed to win an MLS Cup or a Supporter’s Shield without being perennially successful.

Having now seen the results of both of these “formats,” I wondered if the clubs that have won the most often in regular season would be the same ones that have done the best under both formats- L.A., D.C., and to a lesser extent, Columbus, Houston, and San Jose? The temptation would, of course, be to see which club has won the most MLS matches- it’s the Galaxy if you were wondering- but not every team has played in every MLS season, so a different criteria needs to be used. I decided to go with the most straight forward one- points/match. In short, which club- no matter how long it has been in MLS- has earned the greatest average portion of 3 points each time they have played? Here’s how those numbers play out with clubs that have won an MLS Cup or a Supporter’s Shield-


1.671 Seattle Sounders F.C. (1.76)

1.560 Los Angeles Galaxy (1.50)

1.545 Chicago Fire S.C. (1.32)

1.509 Houston Dynamo (1.47)

1.416 D.C. United (0.50)

1.401 Columbus Crew (1.33)

– – – – –

1.352 Sporting Kansas City (1.60)

1.344 San Jose (1.42) *see below

1.317 RSL (1.65)

– – – – –

1.295 Miami Fusion (N/A)

1.292 Colorado Rapids (1.50)

1.257 Tampa Bay Mutiny (N/A)

Note: The second number in each entry is the club’s average thus far in 2013, though not all clubs have played the same amount of matches at this point.

This approach generally supports the other two when you account for the outliers- Seattle (new, but clearly a club to watch) and San Jose (more on that below).

What have we learned form this borderline pointless exercise?

  • Regardless of format or statistic, the cream has risen to the top far more often than not.
  • The Columbus Crew can’t close the deal (full disclosure: I support the only club that has been worse historically than the Crew in that regard)
  • As good as D.C. United has been over some stretches, they’ve been equally bad over others.
  • The Chicago Fire have won a lot of matches since 1998, but they have very little so show for it.
  • Year-to-Year the L.A. Galaxy have been the best club in the league, though I’ll leave it until another time to discuss whether that success has been, for lack of a better term, “engineered” by MLS.

Despite what you might think you see above, the second best club in MLS history is not D.C. United, or even the Columbus Crew…

…it’s the Houston Dynamo. Really.

With two titles and no Supporter’s Shields?

We tend to forget that despite the Browns-Colts-Ravens “scenario” that MLS perpetrated a few years ago, the current Houston Dynamo are, in fact, the old San Jose Earthquakes. MLS can talk all it wants about the history, statistics, etc. of the old Clash/Quakes “staying in San Jose,” but the fact is that every achievement you see above was achieved by the same players and coaching staff who now play in Houston. It also explains why the points/match number* for the new San Jose Earthquakes is abnormally high for a club that has won nothing- it’s padded by the old club’s achievements. Thus, the Old Clash/Quakes/Dynamo numbers should be: 4 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields, and a points/match number that, with the old Clash/Quakes numbers factored in, would rival that of the L.A. Galaxy.

Not where I expected this post to lead me. Funny how that happens.


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