By Ridge Mahoney
The 20th MLS season is a great milestone in the league’s
history, and it could turn out to be the most vivid example of its parity.
With three weeks of the regular season remaining, only three teams -- the LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City, and
the New York Red Bulls -- have lost fewer than 10 games, and they each have nine. If each of them loses at least one more regular-season game, it will mark the first time since the league dropped the
shootout prior to the 2000 season that every team lost at least 10 games.
Here’s a list of teams in each season that lost fewer than 10 games: 2000: (
32-game schedule): Kansas City (7), Chicago (9). 2001:
schedule reduced to 26 or 27 games per team because of
9/11 terrorist attacks. 2002:
(28 games) Dallas (9), LA Galaxy (9). 2003:
(30 games) Chicago (7), San Jose
(7), New England (9). 2004:
(30 games) Columbus (5), Kansas City (9), LA Galaxy (9), Colorado (9). 2005:
games) San Jose (4), New England (7), MetroStars (9), *Kansas City (9). 2006:
(32 games) D.C. United (7), Houston (8), New England (8), Chivas USA (9), 2007:
(32 games) D.C. United (7), Chivas USA (7), New England (8), Houston (8). 2008:
(30 games) Houston (5),
Columbus (7). 2009:
(30 games) LA Galaxy (6), Columbus (7), Chicago (7), Seattle (7), Houston (8), *D.C. United (8). 2011:
(34 games) LA Galaxy (5), Seattle (7), NY Red Bulls (8), Philadelphia (8), Colorado (9), *Chicago (9), Houston (9), Sporting KC (9). 2010:
(34 games) Real Salt Lake (4), FC Dallas (4), LA Galaxy (7), Columbus (8), NY Red Bulls (8), Colorado (8). 2012:
(34 games) San Jose
(6), Sporting KC (7), Seattle (8), NY Red Bulls (9), Houston (9). 2013:
(34 games) Portland (5), NY Red Bulls (9). 2014:
(34 games) LA Galaxy (7), RSL (8), Vancouver (8), *Portland (9), D.C. United (9).
*Did not qualify for playoffs.
(Last year, the Timbers lost the same number of
games as did United, which won the Eastern Conference, but didn’t make the playoffs.)
This season there are several Eastern Conference teams well below the .500 mark, so for them,
parity hasn’t materialized. Yet no teams have been able to pull away at the top of the standings. Supporters’ Shield leader New York (15-9-6,51 points) is only nine points ahead of
Montreal (12-12-6, 42 points) which has the fewest points of the 12 teams currently in the playoff zone. The Western Conference is tighter: the Galaxy (14-9-9, 51 points) leads the pack yet is only
seven points ahead of Portland and San Jose, which are tied for sixth with 44 points.
In three of the past four seasons (since adoption of the 34-game schedule), at least one team has
reached 60 points. This year, only the Red Bulls -- who have four games remaining -- can possibly reach that figure. This is another indication that the league’s overall parity has increased
this season, despite the struggles of those Eastern Conference stragglers.
Here are the top records posted in the past four seasons (all 34 games): 2011:
LA Galaxy (19-5-10), 67 pts.; Seattle (18-7-9, 63 pts.). 2012:
San Jose (19-6-9, 66 pts.); Sporting KC (18-7-9, 63
NY Red Bulls (17-9-8, 59 pts.), Sporting KC (17-10-7, 58 pts.). 2014:
Seattle (20-10-4, 64
pts.); LA Galaxy (17-7-10, 61 pts.).
To incorporate the shorter schedules played prior to 2011, a similar chart could be calculated using points-per-game rather than total points. But the
effects of attrition and fatigue change along with the length of the schedule, and while five seasons (counting the current one) isn’t a huge data base, they do cover a World Cup cycle along
with several expansion seasons.
A longer schedule increases the opportunities for losses, of course, yet it was clear halfway through this 34-game season that the remarkable
accomplishments of RSL and FC Dallas (four losses), Portland (five), San Jose (six), etc., probably weren't going to be challenged. Even the good teams labored through lean periods.
Red Bulls have won nine of their last 13 and started out 4-1-5, but they also lost four straight in late May and early June. The Sounders lost five in a row and eight out of nine after winning six of
their first 10. The Revs lost five in a row prior to the All-Star Game, after which they reeled off six consecutive victories. The Galaxy won just three of its first 12; it won eight of 10 from June
20 to Aug. 23.
So many factors – expansion, injuries, national team callups, trades, transfers, coaching changes, suspensions, scheduling, etc. -- affect a season’s dynamics
that data from a few more 34-game campaigns are necessary to categorize 2015 as an aberration, the norm of increased parity or something else.