Who the analytics like in the Western Conference playoff race

0823 WC Playoff Prediction
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0823 WC Playoff Prediction

The Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs race is spicy right now. In the Western Conference, there are seven teams sitting somewhere between 1.22 and 1.46 points per game. Seven! The last three playoff spots are truly anyone’s game.

Heading into this next week of games (Week 27), some teams look like more probable playoff teams than others – at least based on the numbers. Today, we’re taking a data-driven dive into the Western Conference playoff race to look at which teams will and won’t sneak into the playoffs and join LAFC (first team in).

If you missed my look at the East last week, check it out here.

Let’s walk through each bubble team in the West, starting with fifth-place Real Salt Lake and working our way down from there.

2022 MLS standings

Real Salt Lake logo

Real Salt Lake

It’s no surprise FiveThirtyEight likes RSL’s playoff odds so much, given that they’re two points clear of the rest of the field and they have a game in hand on several of their fellow bubble teams. Now, I’m not going to be the one to tell Pablo Mastroeni these playoff odds exist, even if they are quite favorable to Real Salt Lake. xGrit will do just fine for RSL, thank you very much.

Real Salt Lake’s underlying numbers don’t thrill, but they have a just-barely-positive expected goals differential this season. They’re sitting in seventh in the West right now in terms of xGD per 90 minutes, according to FBref. I think that should be good enough to get them to the postseason.

Verdict: Playoffs

Nashville SC logo

Nashville SC

It’s not just last weekend’s 4-0 win over FC Dallas that should have folks excited about Nashville SC right now. It’s their excellent underlying numbers over the last two months that should have folks excited about Nashville SC right now. Heading into last weekend, Nashville were underperforming their expected points more than any other team in the league, per American Soccer Analysis.

If their recent win over Dallas is anything to go by, Nashville’s production might finally be starting to match the spreadsheets.

Verdict: Playoffs

LA Galaxy logo

LA Galaxy

I feel really silly about what I’m about to say re: every time I go back and watch that clip of Kevin Cabral not selling out to the front post for a tap-in against Seattle on Friday. But hey, I’m going to say it anyway. I think the LA Galaxy are going to make the playoffs.

They’re sitting in the seventh spot in the West with a game or two in hand on everyone else in the conference. FBref’s xGD loves them. Dejan Joveljić keeps scoring goals. Riqui Puig is playing now. Don’t get me wrong: this team has some structure issues out wide. The Galaxy are in the 10th percentile for goals scored by their attacking midfielders and wingers per 90 minutes and the 21st percentile for non-penalty xG from those same positions per 90. But there’s plenty of talent in this team.

Verdict: Playoffs

Vancouver Whitecaps FC logo

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

I want it to happen. I so badly want it to happen. Julian Gressel was a great midseason addition. The same goes for Andres Cubas. And the same could go for Alessandro Schopf. But I just don’t see it right now. The Whitecaps give up too many high-level chances for me to feel great about putting them in the postseason.

Per FBref, the Caps allow the ninth-most non-penalty xG per 90 minutes in the league. They’ve tightened things up defensively since July 1, but there are still some defensive improvements left to be made by Vanni Sartini.

Verdict: No playoffs

Seattle Sounders FC logo

Seattle Sounders FC

Um, would it be cool if we could just skip this section? Is that alright with everyone? No, no, it’s not because I’m afraid of the wrath of the city of Seattle and Sounders fans everywhere. Pshht, that’s not it at all. I’m also totally not afraid of ending up on MLS Images That Preceded Unfortunate Events for the second time.

Okay, I lied. I’m afraid of both of those things. I’m not sure the Sounders are making the playoffs this year. They’re already thin in midfield and now it looks like Cristian Roldan could miss a couple of weeks. That’s not a good sign for this team. On the whole, Seattle are sitting just on the positive side of FBref’s xGD metric, which is encouraging. But without reinforcements in the now-closed Secondary Transfer Window, Seattle’s 13-year playoff streak could be about to come to an end.

Verdict: No playoffs

Portland Timbers logo

Portland Timbers

Losing 4-1 to a team you beat 7-2 just a few months earlier is, uh, something! It certainly looks to me like the Portland Timbers have run out of gas. They’re winless in their last five games and are fresh off of two multi-goal losses.

According to Second Spectrum, Gio Savarese’s Timbers are 18th in MLS in non-penalty xG per 90 minutes since July 1. They’re also giving up the fourth-most non-penalty xG per 90 minutes in that same span. Giving up lots of chances without creating many yourselves isn’t a recipe for making the postseason.

Trouble may await the 2021 MLS Cup hosts.

Verdict: No playoffs

Colorado Rapids logo

Colorado Rapids

We had that fun stretch back at the beginning of this month where the Colorado Rapids beat the New York Red Bulls 5-4 and followed that game up with a 4-3 win over Minnesota United. That Rapids team looked like they had enough in them to make a playoff push. This Rapids team doesn’t look like it has quite the same juice. 

They’re winless in their last three and only have a 26% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. At the moment, the Rapids are struggling to move the ball into dangerous attacking areas. Since July 1, Colorado are 25th in MLS for passes into the box and Zone 14 per 90. Doing more with their possession could go a long way towards boosting their playoff odds. For now, though…

Verdict: No playoffs

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Who the analytics like in the Western Conference playoff race

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