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What's In A Playoff Race?

After such a putrid first 14 or so league games of the season, in which our beloved Kansas City Wizards managed a whole 12 points, they had dug themselves in a great hole for the remainder of the season. Much like other Kansas City sports teams seem to do, once odds are firmly stacked against them, they began to pull themselves out of the muck and make things just a wee bit interesting.

Results since the 0-2 home embarrassment to Chivas USA on July 10

  • For what it's worth, this is also when I created The Daily Wiz, and coincidentally, the team hasn't lost a match in all competitions since. Hmmm.
  • Columbus Crew 0-1 Wizards - At the time, Columbus was on a roll and we were struggling mightily. KC killed some nasty, nasty streaks that night. It seemed to be little more than a slight blip in an otherwise disappointing season.
  • Colorado Rapids 1-1 Wizards - 4 points in 4 days. Too bad we were set to be slaughtered by the mighty Manchester United in a meaningless friendly our next match, and lose all present momentum.
  • Wizards 2-1 Manchester United - 52,000 people at Arrowhead, victory over the world's largest sporting brand, but was it best for the team?
  • Wizards 1-0 Toronto FC - Another three points against another playoff side. On. A. Roll.
  • Wizards 1-1 Real Salt Lake - Should have been three more points, but a draw against arguably the best team in the league and defending champs; I'll take that.

So, at present moment, the race for the 8th and final playoff spot looks like this*:

Points GD GP
7 Colorado Rapids
27 3 18
8 Toronto FC 26 1 18
9 San Jose Earthquakes 23 0 17
10 Chicago Fire 21 0 16
11 Kansas City Wizards 20 -6 18

Obviously, that leaves KC 6 points back, with a game in hand or two to be countered in the final dozen league matches. Work to be done, for sure. How we can accomplish said work after the jump.

* I'm aware Houston are level with KC on 20 points, but given their recent form and results, they are sinking quickly while everyone else are on the upswing.

The four teams in which I consider KC competing with for the final playoff spot are Colorado, Toronto, San Jose and Chicago. Those four, along with KC, are bunched up within just a 7 point gap. The race to the finish is going to hard-fought for whoever ends up making the playoffs. As usual, matches against the teams with which you're competing will be huge, but in my mind, remaining strength of schedule may play an bigger part in the chase for late fall soccer. You can only pick up so many points in a small number of games.

The number of games against fellow playoff chasers for each team are as follows:

Colorado - 0

Toronto - 2 - at Chicago, vs San Jose

San Jose - 4 - vs Kansas City, at Toronto, at Chicago, at Kansas City

Chicago - 3 - vs Toronto, at San Jose, vs Kansas City

Kansas City - 3 - at San Jose, at Chicago, vs San Jose

Conclusions: San Jose have the most remaining matches against teams also fighting for the playoffs. They have the greatest opportunity to win the head-to-heads and build a little breathing room. KC and Chicago - two sides seperated by a single point in the table, but with Chicago having a pair of games in hand - each face three matchups against these opponents. The two teams with fewest games remaining against these opponents - Toronto (2) and Colorado (0) - also happen to be the two sides currently occupying playoff places in the table. Perhaps their plethera of already played games - not to mention getting results - against these teams correlates directly with their positioning. That said, with absolutely no games against middle of table teams left, Colorado's remaining schedule is going to either be against the very best in the league, or the very worst.

The average number of points earned on each team's remaining schedule for the five teams:

Avg. Pts.
Colorado 25.25 6/6
Toronto 24.3 5/7
San Jose 23.6 7/6
Chicago 25 7/7
Kansas City 23.5 5/7

Conclusions: As I suspected before running the numbers, Colorado's remaining schedule - with no matches against their four playoff hopeful foes - is haevily weighted against the current top of the table. Four combined - home and away to Salt Lake, and away to both Los Angeles and Columbus - against the top three in the league make up a third of their remaining fixtures. If it weren't for a combined four - home and away to Philadelphia, and home to both New England and DC, I would say they're fighting a very uphill battle.

Toronto is somewhat a special case the rest of the season. They've advanced to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, thus lining themselves up with an additional six games to be played between now and late October. At some point, Toronto head coach, former Wizards great and newly inducted National Soccer Hall of Fame member Preki will have to decide how much worth to place upon the CCL and his team's remaining league games. Toronto will also be doing a fair amount of travelling the rest of the way, as they have two more away games left than at home - same as KC. Couple that with trips to Mexico and Panama for CCL away ties and Toronto just might run out of gas down the stretch.

You have to like, if not love, San Jose's chances going forward; the weakest remaining schedule and more games to be played at home than away. More so than any other team in this grouping, the Quakes hold their destiny in their own hands. Four games against these opponents, including a key home and away tie with KC which begins this Saturday, really allow San Jose to make their own luck. Right now, I'd place a small dollar figure in their name to be playing come Halloween weekend.

Having two of three remaining matches against playoff chasing opponents at home is a huge coup for the Fire. No other team plays multiple games against them at home. Couple that with their two games in hand over Colorado, Toronto and KC and one over San Jose, if they can string together a few good results in a row, the points can really add up quickly. Don't count them out, but don't count them in. Of the five sides, I can really predict the least confidently what Chicago will do.

And, finally we come to the Wiz; sitting behind all applicable sides in the playoff chase. If you go strictly by the numbers - two less at home than away remaining, current points total and no games in hand - one would likely just say, "ah, they're done for." But, more so than any other team in this conversation, they are playing inspired soccer right now and reeling off posititive results one after another. One could also argue that KC has the most talented pieces on their current squad - without the addition of a Designate Player, nonetheless - and they are finally just now beginning to show glimpses of their collective potential. The home and away with San Jose will be huge. That's a series where they will need to pick up a minimum of 4 points. Holding fort at home and stealing one on the road are critical. Also, you can't lose at Chicago. Perhaps the greatest thing in KC's favor - and the reason their remaining standing of schedule is so low - is zero remaining against Salt Lake or Columbus. Only the trip to Los Angeles looks to be an indefinite definite loss.

Concluion of the conclusions: I said it last week - this Wizards team is going to make the playoffs. I stand by that today. Sure, that's an incredible homer statement, but the proof is in the puddin' and they are playing better than everyone they are chasing. Give this team a healthy final 12 league games - that means no more knocks for Ryan Smith and Shavar Thomas picks up one himself - and they will take 21 to 24 points from their final dozen games and sneak into the playoffs. As of right now, I'll put a dollar on San Jose in the 7th spot and a nickel on KC in 8th.