2017 MLS Teams: Who Is Most Efficient?

MLS analytics

The MLS Season is more than halfway over…well, 64.7058% over, if you want to get “Analytical”. And with DMV-area MLS side DC United in dead last place in the league-wide MLS standings with only .81 point per game, many are wondering how Head Coach Ben Olsen and the DC United front office plan to turn things around before next season, when the black and red will have a new state-of-the-art home in Audi Field.

This past weekend’s 4-0 defeat to fellow bottom-dwellers and first-year team Minnesota United, who were coming off of a 5-game stretch without a win, has many loyal black and red fans searching for answers. Recent reports that ownership is trying to sell the franchise to a small list of potential suitors which includes Redskins owner Dan Snyder, believed by many DMV faithful to be one of the worst owners in sports, doesn’t exactly make loyal DCU fans feel more confident about the team’s direction.

And with fans begging for DC United’s front office to finally pursue a big-name designated player, which they haven’t really had since Dwayne De Rosario in 2011-2013, fans’ frustration CONTINUES to mount when reading reports that the team is seriously considering signing Nigel De Jong, who has broken more legs than he has scored goals. De Jong was in MLS in 2016 with the LA Galaxy, where he played in 18 games, scored 0 goals, had 0 assists, earned 3 yellow cards (one of these yellows, his horror tackle on Darlington Nagbe, should have been a straight red and a suspension) and 1 red card. Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy terminated his contract in 2016. De Jong moved to Turkey, where he played only 18 games for Galatasaray since 2016.

So from a fan’s perspective, it’s easy to feel frustrated when the DMV’s ONLY MLS team hasn’t had a bonafide big-name player serving as the face of the franchise in recent memory, we finally have a new stadium being built which should have been done years ago, and we’re expected to be excited about being the only team in the world thinking about signing a 32-year-old CDM who brings zero to the table offensively, will likely be suspended for multiple games, and ended the career of arguably the best young USMNT prospect, Stuart Holden, who was up for EPL player of the year when he was at Bolton in 2011?

In every sport, teams are forced to work with the resources that they have in place, from a financial aspect. Brad Pitt’s Moneyball, a true story about Oakland Athletics GM Billy Bean building a team on a shoestring budget after being forced to sell the team’s best 4 players in the offseason, highlighted Bill James’ Analytics-first approach to signing new players, which was later adopted by John Henry and the Boston Red Sox.

In the NBA, analytics has become such a big part of the game that former NBA great and current TNT announcer Charles Barkley spoke out against focusing on stats and numbers, over factors such as leadership, eye test, etc.

But in soccer, how can efficiency be measured when it comes to a team’s budget and overall performance?

As it relates to DC United, if the team can’t afford to compete from a financial aspect with big spenders like Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, are they at least getting the most out of the budget that they do have?

We compiled a spreadsheet which looks at every team’s current standing in the league, along with each team’s 2017 player salaries and total player compensation being paid out. We then ranked each team on the following four metrics, based on how they are trending to finish the 34-game season:

  • Average cost per game (what it costs each MLS franchise per game, based on total player compensation for the season)
  • Average cost per point earned
  • Average cost per goal
  • Number of goals allowed

We took those four metric for each team, and calculated the average rating for each team among those 4 categories (we will cal this ‘x’). We then took each team’s average standing in their conference (from 1-11, with the top 6 being playoff teams, ‘y’), added the total average from x and y together, and came up with efficiency ratings for each team.

You can view the spreadsheet by clicking here. Teams are sorted by overall efficiency, we explain more about how we came up with these numbers below.

Team in bold are currently in top 6 in their conference, aka current playoff teams.

 

Does any of this make sense? Probably not, but here’s what we came up with in terms of top performers in each category, as well as total overall efficiency.

Cost Per Game

Below are the top 12 teams when it comes to cost per game efficiency. This was calculated by taking total compensation, divided by 34. Any teams in bold (top 6 in standings) are current playoff teams.

Rank (standings) Club Base Salary Compensation Cost/Game (34 game season) Rank Cost/Game
3 Houston $4,837,899.98 $5,025,066.65 $147,796.08 1
10 Montreal $4,995,921.08 $5,215,855.89 $153,407.53 2
11 DC United $4,812,135.44 $5,272,447.94 $155,072.00 3
10 Minnesota United FC $4,926,046.04 $5,322,864.55 $156,554.84 4
8 New England $5,406,993.25 $5,800,118.33 $170,591.72 5
2 FC Dallas $5,690,579.28 $6,510,760.94 $191,492.97 6
1 Kansas City $6,365,856.00 $6,730,358.78 $197,951.73 7
6 Columbus FC $6,345,232.48 $6,747,544.99 $198,457.21 8
3 New York Red Bulls $6,313,982.00 $6,895,186.17 $202,799.59 9
7 San Jose $6,429,566.00 $6,959,287.11 $204,684.92 10
9 Philadelphia $6,516,876.00 $7,117,010.10 $209,323.83 11
8 Real Salt Lake $7,156,440.44 $7,734,355.44 $227,481.04 12

Cost Per Point

Below are the top 12 MLS teams based on what they pay per point earned. This was calculated by taking the current points per game average (through 20-22 games played), multiplied by 34 to come up with total number of points based on current PPG trends. We then took the total cost per game, divided it by total points for each team.

Rank (standings) Club PPG # of Points (34 game season) Cost/Point (34 game season) Rank Cost/Point
3 Houston 1.5 51 $2897.96 1
2 FC Dallas 1.7 57.8 $3313.02 2
1 Kansas City 1.64 55.76 $3550.067 3
3 New York Red Bulls 1.68 57.12 $3550.41 4
10 Montreal 1.2 40.8 $3759.99 5
8 New England 1.24 42.16 $4046.29 6
6 Columbus FC 1.39 47.26 $4199.26 7
7 San Jose 1.32 44.88 $4560.72 8
10 Minnesota United FC 1 34 $4604.55 9
6 Vancouver 1.5 51 $4659.38 10
5 Atlanta FC 1.62 55.08 $4768.87 11
9 Philadelphia 1.18 40.12 $5217.44 12

Cost Per Goal

Below are the top 12 teams based on cost per goal. This was calculated by taking each team’s goals for, dividing it by the number of games played, and multiplying that number by 34 to come up with total goals scored per game average based on a 34-game season, We then took the cost-per-game average for each team, and divided it by goals-per-game, to come up with the average cost per goal scored for each club. Clubs in bold are current playoff teams based on standings.

Rank (standings) Club GP GF Goals/Game # of Goals (34 games) Cost Per Goal Rank
3 Houston 22 39 1.77 60 $2,452.12 1
8 New England 21 36 1.71 58 $2,926.82 2
10 Montreal 20 30 1.5 51 $3,007.99 3
3 New York Red Bulls 22 40 1.82 62 $3,280.58 4
10 Minnesota United FC 22 29 1.32 45 $3,493.11 5
2 FC Dallas 20 32 1.6 54 $3,520.09 6
5 Atlanta FC 21 41 1.95 66 $3,956.99 7
6 Columbus FC 23 33 1.43 49 $4,068.19 8
1 Kansas City 22 28 1.27 43 $4,574.51 9
6 Vancouver 20 30 1.5 51 $4,659.38 10
9 Philadelphia 22 29 1.32 45 $4,670.51 11
8 Real Salt Lake 23 30 1.30 44 $5,129.47 12

Goals Against

We took the total goals against for each club, divided it by the number of games played to come up with goals against average. We then multiplied that number by 34. Top 12 clubs in terms of goals against average, starting with least number of goals allowed:

Rank (standings) Club Games Played GA Average GA Based on 34 games Rank
1 Kansas City 22 17 0.77 26 1
1 Toronto 22 22 1 34 2
2 Chicago 21 24 1.14 39 3
2 FC Dallas 20 23 1.15 39.1 4
9 Philadelphia 22 27 1.23 41 5
4 NYC FC 21 26 1.24 42 6
5 Atlanta FC 21 28 1.33 45 7
3 New York Red Bulls 22 31 1.41 48 8
5 Seattle 22 31 1.41 48 8
7 Orlando 22 31 1.41 48 8
6 Vancouver 20 29 1.45 49 9
11 Colorado 20 29 1.45 49 9

Total Club Efficiency

After calculating a rank for every MLS team based on each of the following measurable:

  • Cost per game
  • Cost per point
  • Cost per goal
  • Goals against

We took each club’s combined ranking for all 4 categories, divided that total number by 4 to come up with an average ranking for each team. So, for example, Houston has the following rankings for each category:

  • Cost per game rank: 1
  • Cost per point rank: 1
  • Cost per goal rank: 1
  • Goals against rank: 10

That’s a combined rank of 13, divided by 4 which equals an average rank of 3.25.

We then took the total average rank for each team, added the current number based on standing.

So Houston is number 3 in the Western Conference standings.

3.25 + 3=6.25.

We then took divided those numbers by 2, to calculate a total efficiency rating for each club (with the lowest rating being most efficient based on all combined measurables):

Club Average Rank Rank (Standings) Efficiency Rating (Average Rank + Rank in Standings) / 2 Rank
Kansas City 5 1 3 1
Houston 3.25 3 3.125 2
FC Dallas 4.5 2 3.25 3
New York Red Bulls 6.25 3 4.625 4
New England 6.5 8 7.25 5
Columbus FC 8.75 6 7.375 6
Atlanta FC 10 5 7.5 7
Chicago 13.25 2 7.625 8
Montreal 6.5 10 8.25 9
Vancouver 10.75 6 8.375 10
San Jose 10.5 7 8.75 11
Toronto 16.75 1 8.875 12
Philadelphia 9.75 9 9.375 13
Minnesota United FC 9.25 10 9.625 14
Seattle 14.25 5 9.625 15
Portland 15.5 4 9.75 16
NYC FC 16.75 4 10.375 17
Real Salt Lake 14 8 11 18
DC United 12 11 11.5 19
Orlando 17.25 7 12.125 20
Colorado 14.5 11 12.75 21
Los Angeles 18.25 9 13.625 22

Not every team will have huge budgets like Toronto, New York, or Los Angeles. But based on the amount that each club is spending, are they getting the most “bang for their buck” based on some of these calculations?

Take Kansas City, for an example. Only 6 other teams spend less than Sporting KC from a cost/game standpoint, yet they are top 10 in the other 3 categories, and as a result are not only the top team in the Western Conference, but are (according to these calculations) also the most efficient team in the league.

Take another team like Toronto, who spends more on player compensation than any other team in the league. They are on top of the Eastern Conference but are closer to the bottom in terms of overall efficiency.

And LA Galaxy, who are the least efficient team in MLS based on these calculations, can afford to sign a number of big-name players season after season, with 2017 being one where they likely miss out on a Western Conference Playoff spot.

What Does All of this Mean For DC United?

Let’s assume a new ownership group comes in, and takes the LA Galaxy approach to signing big-name players for the next 3 seasons. Will one or two big-name players guarantee success? Obviously not. But for teams like Kansas City, Houston, and other teams who are able to produce results on an Oakland A’s type of budget, what are they doing right that can possibly be duplicated here in the DMV?