But kids, I just can't do it. First of all, it was Rosh Hashanah the last three days so I've been writing and rabbi-ing a whole bunch lately. But second of all, I couldn't see the point of it. The Rapids season is toast. The only thing to play for is the desire to *not* receive the Wooden Spoon at season's end. Dissecting the minutiae just seems irrelevant. I'm just waiting to be officially mathematically eliminated, and trying to invent new ways to discuss an irrelevant end to the season.
So while checking on the standings to see when we would be eliminated, I saw that the Colorado Rapids were the lowest rated team in MLS by fivethirtyeight.com 's SPI calculations. Lower than even San Jose.
I think this number is imperfect. It seems highly dependent on trying to isolate expected goals, shots, and chance creation, neutralizing and homogenizing that data by throwing as many numbers as possible into their modeling, and then assuming the results will be constant across all leagues.
I believe that data from Europa league and Champions league matches is used. But I also believe that data from Concacaf Champions league and US Open Cup are NOT used. I'm basing that on what kind of Opta data, if any, is available from league to league. In addition, it seems that fivethirtyeight's SPI doesn't at all take head-to-head results into account. That is a problem especially when trying to determine the relative strength of one league versus another. Long story short, I'm skeptical of these numbers.
Still, it had me wondering. The numbers are imperfect, but they do reflect the reality that I have observed to a significant degree. I've been watching USL soccer a lot more this year as our family began preparing to relocate to Pittsburgh, and a lot of USL teams look pretty good - at least good enough to go toe-to-toe evenly with Colorado for 90 minutes. Of course earlier this year in US Open Cup, Nashville not only gave the Rapids a battle, they beat them.
Based on what I'd seen of the two leagues this year, I suspected that the Rapids would be an above-average mid-table team in USL this year. The top teams in USL - the FC Cincinnati juggernaut; the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and their stalwart defense; the young academy talent biding their time with Real Monarchs and Orange County - would all be as good as the Rapids, and probably better. I thought that Colorado would be more evenly matched with the second-tier of USL teams, like Indy Eleven, Red Bulls II, Sacramento, and Reno. Did fivethirtyeight's model agree with me?
Here above are the top 12 teams in USL. The Colorado Rapids, with a 26.0 SPI, would rank 11th. That'd make them good enough for 6th in the Western Conference. Yay! We'd make the (USL) playoffs!
This is clearly just an interesting intellectual exercise. We'll never know how the Rapids might have done against USL opposition over a long season. I think they'd be a little better than 11th, but I also don't think they'd win USL Cup.
This isn't a pro-rel article. There are financial considerations and practical realties that stand in the way of a promotion-relegation system in America right now, and besides, I'm already on record as in favor of a pro/rel system in MLS. This is just me pondering out loud.
Colorado has clearly shown they aren't very good in MLS. One can question whether they ought to be relegated to the USL. If the world were fair; if everyone and everything were judged purely on merit; if how much money your owner paid to get into a league was not a factor; then Colorado would not deserve to be in MLS - they would be rightfully relegated to the USL. But, as Snoop said on the HBO drama 'The Wire', "deserve got nothing to do with it."