Minnesota United loves its “Three-Year Plan.”
The club has preached it from the get-go. The first two seasons in Major League Soccer are a build-up to the magical third season, when Allianz Field will open and the team will finally be competitive.
While this isn’t written into the plan, making the playoffs in 2018 seems like a good segway to the Loons landing as an MLS Cup contender next season. Being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs never sounded so good.
And all season long, the players have been speaking of that magical red line. And that red line keeps looming above United, even as time runs out for a playoff push.
When Minnesota returns to action after a break on September 12th, there will be just eight games to make the magic happen, roughly a quarter of the season.
Let’s take a peek at the numbers to find Minnesota United’s playoff chances:
Where will the red line fall? That’s the question we must first consider.
With the top six teams from each conference making the playoffs, the point threshold necessary to finish in the group changes from year to year. In the past three years, the red line has fallen at a little bit more than 47 points on average for both conferences.
This year will look a little bit different for the West with the introduction of Los Angeles Football Club. Now fewer than half of the teams will make the cut.
Mathmatically, the red line will probably be higher than normal this year. The teams currently occupying fifth through eighth place all have either 37 or 38 points, so we’ll make our guess out of their progress.
Below is a list of each team and their projected 34-game point total, based off of the points-per-game listed on mlssoccer.com (rounded for realistic-ness):
Seattle Sounders: 52
LA Galaxy: 48
Portland Timbers: 52
Now, that’s a very un-scientific marker — we haven’t factored in location or strength of schedule for their remaining games — but it shows that eight Western Conference teams are on track to finish above the normal red line.
We’ll consider 52 points to be the reasonable threshold that Minnesota United would need to reach in order to have a good shot of making the playoffs.
The Loons are currently sitting on 29 points with 8 games to go. That means they need to pick up 23 points from those 8 matches.
To save you the mental math, that means they need to win every match. Uff da.
United winning out seems about as likely as Minnesota State Fair vendors running out of ideas for things to cook on a stick, but let’s examine the rest of the schedule.
But we need to consider one thing about each matchup: how easy will it be for the Loons to win?
Since there is such a stark contrast between performance from home and away teams in MLS, we’ll look at location as our primary factor here. Below is a list of Minnesota United’s remaining opponents, and the opponent’s points-per-game for playing at home or on the road:
at D.C. United: 2.38
at Real Salt Lake: 2.31
Portland Timbers: 1.08
at Philadelphia Union: 1.77
Colorado Rapids: 0.50
LA Galaxy: 1.23
at Columbus Crew: 2.08
Remember, those are the opponent’s location-based PPG rates for each match, so the higher the number, the less of a chance the Loons stand. Across all 8 matches, Minnesota’s upcoming opponents would expect 1.56 points per match.
That puts Minnesota United’s chances at earning an average of 1.44 points per match from here on out.
Again, that’s an average and based on previous games, so it’s far from a perfect measurement. But it shows how difficult the upcoming stretch will be for the Loons.
Since you’re wondering, the average would predict that Minnesota United will come away with 11.5 points from the rest of the season. That’s a dandy over/under, by the way.
To save you the math again, 12 points (we’ll round up, for optimism’s sake) puts the Loons at 42 points on the year.
Remember now that our predicted red line is 52 points. For reference, 3 Western Conference teams already have more than 42 points, and 8 have at least 37.
It’s extremely unlikely that 42 will be enough.
And so we see that the odds are indeed stacked against Minnesota United. Based on our predictions, the Loons would need to win every match to stand a decent chance of making the playoffs. And the numbers guess that they’ll come up short.
Finishing with 42 points would be an improvement from last year’s 36 though, so at least there’s that.
Thoughts? Share them in the comments section below.