[MLS SPOTLIGHT] There were three of them last weekend, and a couple of them the weekend before that, and while it’s much too early to label this as anything more than a quirk, to see them in significant numbers is intriguing.
They are comebacks, which in a low-scoring sport like soccer are problematic simply because of the mathematics. Last year, only 27 times in 279 MLS regular-season matches (9.7 percent) did a team rally to win after conceding the first goal. Another 79 times a team came back to tie, but in a crushing 173 matches (62 percent) the team that conceded the first goal went on to lose. In terms of percentage of points, teams falling behind by a goal came away with 160 points of a possible 837 (19.1 percent).
These are raw numbers; they are not qualitatively analyzed as to when that first goal was scored or whether it was the home or road team that puts its nose in front. A team falling behind early has, logically, more time to catch up than if the first goal is scored midway through the second half. And while some observers give extra credit for teams that can battle back, which is an admirable trait, a team that can score first and go on to win is following the ideal formula for success.
A peek at last year’s stats reveals that only one team, Seattle, compiled a .500 record after falling behind. At 7-7-3, the Sounders had more than twice as many comeback wins than any other team except Columbus, which at 4-13-5 surely fell behind more often than Coach Robert Warzycha and its fans would have wanted. MLS Cup finalists Los Angeles (3-5-2) and Houston (3-8-7), along with Colorado (3-7-3), were the only teams to register three such victories.
So far this season, rallies are – if not the norm – occurring more frequently. On Saturday, FC Dallas came back from a goal down to beat Montreal, 2-1; Los Angeles drilled three into the Portland net after conceding an early goal to Kris Boyd; and D.C. United, playing at New England, shook off an early goal to win it with a late Chris Pontius strike. The Quakes rallied to tie, not beat, New York, but did so twice, scoring first-half goals after falling behind 1-0 and 2-1.
The Timbers were also victimized on April 7, blowing a 1-0 lead when Chivas USA scored early and late in the second half after Boyd had provided an early lead. Vancouver scored early in the second half to lead 1-0 at San Jose, which stormed back to score three goals in 10 minutes to win, 3-1. After the Quakes’ rally, Coach Frank Yallop admitted he didn’t see it coming.
“I thought we were dead and buried at 1-0,” Yallop said. “I thought it didn’t look good. But I liked our spirit. We didn’t give up, we fought, we came back.”
They came back again in Red Bull Arena on Saturday, with goals by Rafael Baca and Chris Wondolowskianswering strikes by Kenny Cooper and Dax McCarty. The goals by Wondo and Cooper pushed them into a tie with Thierry Henry for the league goalscoring lead at seven apiece. That stat got a lot more attention than what resulted later in the evening when the Galaxy rallied to beat Portland; the record for teams conceding the first goal rose to 9-37-4 (counting Sunday's Chicago-Houston game abandoned in the 65th minute with the score, 1-1).
Nine wins (18 percent ) in 50 games is one-third of the total accumulated during the entire 2011 season, though the percentage of possible points is about the same (20.1 percent). Those nine comebacks have been achieved by nine different teams. Last year, seven of the 18 teams weren’t able to win any game in which they had fallen behind. They included New York (0-8-5) and RSL (0-8-2), which were the only two teams in this category to make the playoffs.
However, teams that trail at halftime are far worse off, in general, than those that concede the first goal, though in many cases they are the same instances. If a team falls behind in the first half and doesn’t go into the locker room with at least an equalizer, the statistics are grim: only once in 27 games (1-25-1) this season has a team won after trailing at halftime. That was Chivas USA’s win at Portland. On Saturday, the Galaxy tied Portland in the final minute of the first half, and scored two late goals to win.
Whether teams can continue to rally at the same pace, or this is just a temporary bubble driven by factors such as Portland’s inability to even get a tie when taking the lead, will bear watching as the season unfolds.