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Playoff 'magic number' higher this year
by Ridge Mahoney, September 29th, 2009 7AM

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[MLS PLAYOFF RACE] In baseball, a magic number is the sum of games a team needs to win plus the games its foes need to lose for it to clinch a postseason spot. In MLS, the magic number is how many points are needed to get into the playoffs, and as the number of teams has increased, that magic number has inched up as well. A benchmark of 40 points - which would represent a 10-10-10 record in a 30-game season - doesn't look like it will be quite enough this year.

Here are the lowest point totals of playoff-qualified teams, followed by the average points per game, in each year since the shootout was dropped prior to 2000:

Year Games Team Record Points PPG
2000 32 Colorado 13-15-4 43 1.34
2001 26 Dallas 10-11-5 35 1.35
2002 28 Kansas City 9-10-9 36 1.29
2003 30 Los Angeles 9-12-9 36 1.20
2004 30 New England 8-13-9 33 1.10
2005 32 Los Angeles 13-13-6 45 1.41
2006 32 New York 9-11-12 39 1.22
2007 30 Kansas City 11-12-7 40 1.33
2008 30 New York 10-11-9 39 1.30

(As an aside, New England's mark in 2004 is the same as posted by the Galaxy and Quakes last year when they finished tied for last in the Western Conference. How the times have changed.)

More teams, and thus more competition, for the same eight slots is a primary reason a points per game of 1.40 (42 points) or greater will likely be needed this year, but another factor is a sharp reduction in tied games over the past four months. Nearly 40 percent (39.7) of games had ended in ties as of Memorial Day; but of the 198 games played to date, only 42 (21 percent) have ended even.

So what will get it done in 2009? Best guess is 42 or 43, depending on the breaks. Sitting in spots fifth through eighth on points are, respectively, Colorado (39), Seattle (38), New England and Colorado (both 37) and Chivas USA (36).

Overall Standings:
(GP) EASTERN W L T GF GA P
(26) Columbus 12 4 10 40 28 46
(27) Chicago 10 6 11 38 33 41
--------------------------------------
(GP) WESTERN W L T GF GA P
(27) Houston 12 8 7 35 26 43
(27) Los Angeles 10 6 11 33 31 41
---------------------------------------
(GP) WILD CARDS W L T GF GA P
(27) Colorado 10 8 9 40 32 39
(25) Chivas USA 11 9 5 26 25 38
(27) Seattle 9 7 11 32 26 38
(25) New England 10 8 7 31 34 37
---------------------------------------
(27) D.C. United 8 7 12 40 40 36
(27) Toronto FC 9 10 8 35 40 35
(27) Real Salt Lake 9 11 7 38 34 34
(26) Kansas City 8 11 7 28 34 31
(26) FC Dallas 8 12 6 44 43 30
(25) San Jose 6 12 7 30 42 25
(27) New York 4 17 6 22 44 18



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