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Measuring the mountain

Photo: Paul Rudderow

In 2011, DC United and the Philadelphia Union were the most improved teams in MLS. DC improved by 0.41 points per game (PPG) and Philadelphia improved by 0.38 points per game, they were the 5th and 6th biggest point/game gains since 2008.

This past winter, DC went all-in with their top scorer Dwayne De Rosario. The Union did something else.

Different directions

Now, about a third of the way into the new year, DC is atop the Eastern Conference standings and the Union need to don their Sporting KC masks and pull off an epic run to make the playoffs.

Through twelves matches in 2012, the Union are averaging 0.73 points/game. If they finish the season at the same level, it will be the worst points/game change since 2008 by a relatively wide margin.

But haven’t we wallowed in the current team’s failures enough already? Let’s see what it will take for the Union to get back in the good graces of the playoff gods.

Points per game: How much is enough?

Since 2009, no team has qualified for the playoffs with a lower PPG than last year’s New York Red Bulls (1.35 points/game). The Union are currently sitting on approximately 0.73 points per game through twelve matches. To reach that minimum threshold they need to average 1.65 points/game through the rest of the season.

This number may not seem that outlandish but it’s almost exactly the PPG of the 2011 Union team through its first 11 matches, arguably (actually, not arguably) the best run in the club’s young history. And remember: This is just what needs to happen for the team to reach the minimum PPG of any playoff team since 2009.

Sporting KC did it, why can’t us?

Well, you say, there is precedent for a run. Just look at 2011’s Sporting Kansas City side. That team won the Eastern Conference despite opening the season with a paltry 0.30 points/game through their first ten contests. KC finished last year averaging 1.50 points/game, powered by the league’s fourth best home record.

Over the final 24 matches of the 2011 season, Sporting KC averaged a whopping 1.875 points/game. To put that in perspective, once they moved into Livestrong Park, Sporting Kansas City became the 4th best team in MLS since 2008.

A large part of Sporting KC’s success came from their stellar home record. Fourth best in MLS, the mid-westerners averaged 1.94 points/game in Livestrong Park. Only LA, Real Salt Lake and Houston (all at or above 2.0 PPG) were better. The Union’s 1.76 PPG put them in the bottom half in terms of home records, despite finishing with only one defeat at PPL Park.

Home is where the points are

And here, unfortunately, we stumble across another worrying trend for Philadelphia. Since 2008, only two playoff teams have finished with a home PPG less than 1.59 (2008 New England, 2009 Chicago).

So let’s assume that 1.60 is the magic number the Union have to hit in terms of home PPG. Through 5 matches at PPL this season the team is sitting at an ugly 0.80 points/game. Want to take a few deep breaths before finding out how the Union need to finish the home season in order to reach that 1.60 plateau? Go ahead. I’ll be right here [Hums “High Hopes”]

1.93 points/home game.

And again, that’s just meeting the minimum.

Keep in mind that Peter Nowak has struggled through slow starts before. The 2004 DC United team that won the MLS Cup started 3-5-3, going 2-2-1 at home. Still, for those of you counting at home, that’s 1.09 points/game, which is well ahead of the Union’s current 0.73.

Plenty of games still left to play, right?



  1. DarthLos117 says:


  2. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    We’re screwed.

  3. I can’t decide if this piece has made me feel better or worse.

  4. The Black Hand says:

    Yikes! 0.73 points/game is one ugly statistic. What makes it worse, is the fact that we were lucky to get to 0.73. Some of those goals have been flukes and far from deserved. Through our first 12 games, we are currently a club that, simply, does not generate any quality scoring chances, let alone goals. I would feel, a hell of a lot, better if we were applying strong attacking pressure and were “snakebitten” as far as the finishing goes. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We have NO attack, (and there is really no sign of that changing). Nowak compliments that with a disorganized, inept midfield and an undersized backline, who’s weaknesses are now completely exposed. Put em all together and you get a 0% chance of adding 0.87 points/game. Sadly, this season is just about at the “Death Rattle”.

  5. Kensington Josh says:

    I think our team is more talented than our record shows, but I don’t so evidence for this kind of turn around.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I agree. We have talented individuals. I would love to see us transform into a talented team.

  6. The problem is our team has much more talent than our record shows. I was a nowak fan in the past but he has sorely let the team and fans down this year and should pay with his job if it continues. I held out hope that the early moves were made in order to bring in better talent to improve upon last year but at this rate the only thing we stand to win is some early draft picks and lots of empty seats.

    • Kreftyplan says:

      What does it take for Nowak to lose his job? Doesnt the embarrassment of the Califf trade mean anything. He lies about the guys injuries. Then he lies about his desire to be traded. So much that the guys wife has to embarass Nowak by posting on Facebook and Danny himself is quoted as saying “it made me want to throw up” when he heard Nowaks version of the story.

      Why would any fan of the Union want to have a coach that you cant believe what he says. I know as a season ticket holder that I deserve better than that. I dont care if the season truns around this year, I want him out or am not renewing my season tickets.

      • I agree that he has been less than truthful and if the situation is as it appears he needs to go regardless of the season but if he has a plan (though at this point I doubt it) and we go on to make a run in the playoffs to change the coach could be detrimental. Why I am not sure but the FO appears not to have the money to make a big coaching hire and to hire a lesser manager would not be an improvement. On the season ticket aspect to not renew only hurts the team, franchise, players and city not nowak. I am a founding member and will keep my tickets regardless as I have a love for the game and feel blessed to have a team in my area to help grow the game regardless of record and management.

  7. Philly Cheese says:

    We need forwards that don’t just take shots, but know how to finish. After Tuesday a couple of friendly games may let is see two or three of the “young” forwards on the pitch at the same time. Would love to see Martinez and Hoffman together for extended minutes.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I would be happy with forwards that took shots. Ours don’t.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      What, has Jack died or something? Poor kid was never loved here.
      And now that Pajoy is suspended, I hope we get to see him again. I’d be happy with a front 3 of Jack-Mwanga-Martinez

  8. Scottymac says:

    We have talent, the question is “Is our team more talented than the rest of the conference?” . No, they’re not. Not top to bottom. You’d be hard pressed to find one position where we win the talent matchup over NYRB or DCU.

    • James 4-3-3 says:

      Well, the question is also “Are that THAT talented enough to overcome inept coaching and tactics?” and that answer in no.

  9. Wrong. We got rid of our best players and replaced them with scrubs (adu pajoy) and people who have “potential” but will never be there (Jack, Mwanga, Fargan bros). This is the definition o a lost season. Fire Novak and His assistants!

  10. I don’t really feel good about any facet of this team. The FO has redesigned the defense with glaring deficiencies. And these same geniuses have searched far and wide to bring us our core of (non) scorers. At least last year we knew the D would hold down the back and ‘sometimes’ the O would come through for us. This year I worry about both. And the Midfield has simply not linked-up well. There IS talent in the midfield so I’ve got to hang their poor play on Pete and Hack.

    The next three games should be treated as Pre-Season. Josue? Yes! ChanHo? Okay!?! Okugo? Yep! Let’s friggin’ get back in this thing! it’s NOT too late!

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