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'Home is where the points are'
by Ridge Mahoney, September 2nd, 2008 1:30PM
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Was it confidence or desperation that drove Wizards coach Curt Onalfo to steadfastly maintain his team's playoff chances remain tangible despite it sitting six points adrift of the nearest postseason slot with eight games to play?

"We end the season with five of our last seven games at home, so this just puts more emphasis on winning our home games," said Onalfo after the Wizards conceded a late goal to fall behind San Jose, 2-1, and fluffed a last-second chance to equalize. Instead, Kansas City's road record dropped to 1-6-5.

"That's MLS," Onalfo said. "There's enormous parity. On any given day anybody can win. If you look at the reality, the reality is most teams have not done well on the road."

Parity is not new to MLS; it is the league's stated objective, one of the rationales behind its salary cap and single-entity structure, and one of its prevalent, and most maddening, factors. Yet by doing the math it's clear Onalfo is right: the 2008 season is on pace to establish a home-field edge not seen since the early years of the post-shootout era as teams try to grind out results.

"Once you get to the last third of the season, the last quarter of the season, it's going to be like that," says forward Josh Wolff, who returned during the summer to MLS following a one-and-a-half year stint in Germany. "Both teams were in need of points and unfortunately we didn't come up with the goods."

Eleven of the 14 MLS teams - including all seven in the Western Conference -- have two or fewer road wins, which makes the road success of New England (5-4-2), Columbus (6-3-2), and Chicago (6-3-3) all the more remarkable, and also explains how those teams have compiled the three best records in MLS. (Houston and Chicago both have 35 points, the Fire has more wins.)

Not since the 2002 season have home teams won more than 50 percent of regular-season games, yet so far with 154 games played, home teams have won 79, lost only 34, and tied 41. That's a home win percentage of 51.3 percent, which doesn't sound so overwhelming, but is still greater than in recent seasons.

Last year, home teams won 91 of 195 games (46.7 percent). In 2006, victories by home teams (92) more than doubled home losses (44), yet there were also 56 ties, and thus the home win percentage (in a 192-game season) was 47.9.

The 2005 statistics, amazingly, were the same: 92 home wins in 192 games for the same 47.9 percentage, except that the totals for ties and home losses flip-flopped. There were 44 ties and 56 home defeats, so the home-team win percentage would seem to be nearly independent of the other two possibilities: a road win and a tie.

The 2003 and 2004 seasons, both which featured two five-team divisions and a 30-game schedule, scarcely deviated in home-win percentage. The 2003 teams won 71 of 150 games (47.3 percent). In 2004, home teams won 72 of 150 (48 percent). The discrepancies in road wins and ties from year to year were much greater: the 2003 road teams won 38 games as compared to 32 the following year, and ties increased from 41 to 46. Yet the win results were nearly identical.

Home teams were especially tough in 2001 and 2002, between which seasons the league contracted Miami and Tampa Bay. Miami led all teams with a 10-2-2 home record in 2001, when home teams won 83 of 140 games (59.3 percent). The 2002 San Jose Earthquakes ruled the home roost with a 12-1-1 mark; league-wide, home teams won 77 of 140 games (55 percent).

Getting back to the here and now, Kansas City's home record of 5-2-3 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, its temporary home while Arrowhead Stadium is being renovated, lands it somewhere in the middle amongst MLS teams. Seven teams have won more home games, four have won fewer, and two others also have five wins.

"For us, it's been like that for most of the season," says Onalfo of a team that got off to a great start, hit a long road skid, and has been scrambling to catch up ever since. "After five games, we were in first place, then we went on a six-game road trip and we lost a lot of momentum. For us, since 10 games into the season, every game has been a dogfight.

"We go to Houston next week, then we go home and our destiny is in our hands. Home is where the points are and we have to get points, no doubt about it."



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