By Matthias Kullowatz (@mattyanselmo)
I thought my computer had spit out an error when it told me Toronto FC was the best team in MLS. To the right you can see the power rankings that I was too scared to publish in their typical location without an accompanying article. These are the number of points teams would be expected to earn if the 34-game season started today and each team played a balanced schedule. Toronto may or may not be one of the best teams in MLS, but here's why the computer thinks so.
After last weekend's 1 - 0 win in Philadelphia, Toronto finally completed its seven-game road trip to start the 2015 campaign, a difficult way to start the season which was necessitated by construction to expand BMO Field. That type of road trip typically only happens in MLB or the NBA if the rodeo is in town. The model gives teams bonuses when they have played fewer than half their games at home, assuming that, had they gotten more home games, their expected goals stats would be better.
While it's a bit crazy to think that Toronto will break the MLS points record with more than 70, it's not crazy to think that maybe they're even better than you, our readers, thought when you ranked them second in the East. Toronto is, after all, fifth in the league in expected goal differential (xGD) despite the fact that--as mentioned before--it hasn't played a single home game.
Let's play around with some more-intuitive math. In the past five seasons, home teams have outscored away teams by an average of 0.41 expected goals, and this season Toronto has outscored its opponents by an average of 0.18 expected goals per game. If we give Toronto a 0.82 xGD swing, weighted over 3.5 games, then their xGD jumps to 0.59. That would rank them first this season, and either first or second in each of the previous four seasons.
Toronto is an outlier in both not having played any home games, and having played fewer games than most teams overall. This tends to break regression models. You might notice that the Montreal Impact is also toward the top of the rankings, and not surprisingly, they have played just one home game (25%) and only four total games. Small sample sizes, relative to the rest of the league, are more likely to create outlying results, and that's why the computer is insanely high on those two Canadian clubs. That said, Toronto has put together a very impressive season thus far, even if it doesn't look like it in the standings, and I think it justifies our readers' beliefs that Toronto would be good in 2015.