Points per game adds extra twists in FC Dallas’ postseason journey

We knew it was coming but Major League Soccer finally announced on Friday that points-per-game would be the decider for the league standings.

It’s long been the preferred method of stat-fans to look at the table while the season is still in play because of games in hand. It’s also used in England where reprieves from relegation are decided between leagues with differing numbers of games played.

While the Eastern Conference teams are set to play out the 23 game schedule, only two Western Conference sides – Houston, and Vancouver – will hit that number. The majority of the West teams will play 22 games with the exception of Colorado, whose COVID-19 outbreak leaves them with only 19 scheduled games. The past weekend’s two canceled games mean that Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, and LAFC will finish on 21 games.

MLS also updated its list of tiebreakers as:

  1. Total number of wins per match played;
  2. Goal Differential (GD) per match played;
  3. Goals For (GF) per match played;
  4. Fewest disciplinary points per match played;
  5. Away Goal Differential per away match played; 
  6. Away Goals For per away match played;
  7. Home Goal Differential per home match played;
  8. Home Goals For per home match played;
  9. Coin toss (tie between two clubs) or drawing of lots (tie between three or more clubs).

For the purpose of 5-8, the three group games played at the MLS is Back Tournament do not count as they are considered neutral venue games. FC Dallas’ three make-up games with Nashville will also count as neutral venue.

Now you may be thinking ‘hold on, they’re playing for a fourth time this week, so which three are the make-up games?’. We actually had that same question as we recorded the podcast on Thursday. The two opening games – a 1-0 loss and goalless draw at home – as well as the forthcoming game in Nashville are considered the make-up games. The 3-0 loss in Nashville on October 20 counts as a regularly scheduled away game.

That’s not necessarily a big issue as there are only two cases where the first tiebreaker is even being used.

Here’s the Western Conference standings after the weekend’s games. I’ve included goal difference per game, goals scored per game, as well as the minimum and maximum points per game each team can attain. The latter is the decider for who is clinching their playoff spots.

MLS Western Conference standings after the games on 11/1

FC Dallas Head Coach Luchi Gonalzez is well aware of what the changes mean.

Luchi Gonzalez applauds the FC Dallas fans after his side beats Houston 3-0 to seal a playoff place (FC Dallas Communications)

“I know it’s been a hectic year, and the League has had to really adjust and be flexible based on all the challenges with the virus,” said Gonzalez to reporters on Thursday. “Whatever they decide, we have to be ready to accept it, don’t make excuses, and make the best of it. So it’s points per game. And let’s bring it on. We have our little matrix here in my office about all the different outcomes of ourselves and others, but we can’t control the other results. We can only control our own, and that’s our main focus.”

Speaking to Luchi a week earlier he mentioned the idea that results mean more, which sounds ridiculous but the move to PPG makes everything count. SKC missed the weekend but briefly went top of the West as Seattle’s 3-1 loss to Colorado cost the Sounders 0.09 PPG to drop them below Sporting’s 1.80 PPG.

Teams not playing at all can have a strong effect on Dallas’ next target, a home playoff. FCD would need to finish fourth to bring the post season to Toyota Stadium. LAFC and Minnesota United stand in the way of fourth place in the West, with both teams having their games cancelled. That raises the minimum PPG the teams could finish on without the possibility for that extra defeat.

This past weekend is the second Minnesota postponement that has hit Dallas. This weekend the Loons were due to travel to Sporting Kansas City, and had a cancelled visit to Frisco from October 11. A defeat in either would have dropped MNUFC below Dallas, and the additional FCD win would have the Huntsmen sitting fourth above LAFC.

All of this brings us to the final week of a bizarre regular season. FC Dallas travels to Nashville on Wednesday hoping to right the wrongs of three disappointing the last three road performances. Minnesota United, COVID-19 outbreak pending, is due to travel to Chicago and face a side that has only lost once at home this year.

Decision Day sees Luchi Gonzalez’s men on the road in Minnesota while LAFC host a Portland side that is chasing the Supporters’ Shield.

“We’re looking forward to playing [Nashville SC] again and doing it with the motivation to earn a home playoff game,” said Gonzalez after Saturday’s playoff clinching win over Houston. “We want to, and I want to, play in front of these fans. Our players want to play in front of our fans again, and the only way we can accomplish that sooner than later is to try to finish these last two games in a very positive way.”

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