Forbes statistical analysis gives RSL 2.85 percent chance to win the MLS cup

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31 2012 4:50 p.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio takes a shot during the second half of the MLS match between Real Salt Lake and Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

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According to Forbes contributor Zach Slaton Real Salt Lake has a 2.85-percent chance of winning the MLS Cup.

Despite Forbes prediction, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl predicts that RSL will make the MLS Cup final but lose to Sporting Kansas City.

Slaton, who uses advanced statistical models to analyze soccer matches, says the addition of the two-legged aggregate goal format to the MLS Cup in 2003 has given "a certain predictability to the playoffs."

Slaton uses a statistical model based on 10 factors to produces a percentage that represents the likelihood of a playoff team winning the MLS Cup.

According to Slaton's equation, teams that play less games and have a higher median minutes-played-per-player have a higher chance of going deep into the playoffs. Slaton explains that teams who play lots of games in the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League are more likely to have injuries and shorter periods of rest going into the postseason.

Slaton uses his analysis to show the current MLS playoff system tends to punish teams who play more out-of-league matches and tend to be seeded higher, while rewarding lower-seeded teams who play less games but are more rested coming into the playoffs.

Slaton's equation also factors in variables such as goal differential, overall record and whether or not a team is playing at home.

Slaton's calculations say the San Jose Earthquakes have an 82.79 percent chance of winning the MLS Cup, the largest margin the equation has ever produced.

Since 2004, eight of the nine teams projected with the highest likelihood of winning advanced to the MLS Cup final. Five of nine ultimately won the cup.

Slaton's model accurately predicted RSL's 2009 championship despite the team having a losing record and being seeded eighth.

According to MajorLeagueSoccerTalk.com RSL must match their opponents’ midfield play to make it through a tough Western Conference. Veteran Kyle Beckerman will lay a key role in RSL's midfield attack according to he blog.

And MLSsoccer.com blogger Simon Borg says, Seattle is under the most pressure to win the cup, having the highest average attendance per game but never having advanced in the playoffs.

Although Slaton's model makes RSL a statistical underdog, fans need not stop cheering yet. the equation gives Western Conference rival Seattle a 0.00 percent chance of winning.

Here is a quick summary of Slaton's predictions for this year's MLS Cup playoffs:

Knockout Round

• Houston will beat Chicago because the Dynamo have a higher goal differential and median minutes played while having played four fewer games than the Fire.

• Los Angeles will beat Vancouver despite having played three more games than the Whitecaps. The Galaxy's plus-18 goal differential and slight advantage in median minutes more than makes up for the penalty of additional matches.

Conference Semifinals

• San Jose will beat Los Angeles. San Jose's matches played is third lowest and its median minutes played is third highest. The Earthquakes also have an advantage with a plus-29 goal differential, by far the highest in the league.

• Real Salt Lake will defeat Seattle in the semifinals for the second year in a row and go on to face favorite San Jose.

• D.C. United is the team in the East with the highest likelihood of playing for the cup. D.C. will beat the New York Red Bulls.

• Sporting Kansas City, considered by many to be the favorite to win it all, will easily beat Houston.

Conference finals

• San Jose will defeat Real Salt Lake. In the Western Conference, RSL has the highest likelihood of any team to upset the Earthquakes with a 10-percent chance.

• D.C will defeat Sporting KC.

MLS Cup Final

• San Jose will defeat DC United. According to Slaton the reason for San Jose's incredibly high probability for winning is that the Earthquakes have a "perfect storm" of high goal differential and median minutes played while having played a relatively low amount of total games.

Ryan Carreon is a web editor for the Deseret News. E-mail him at rcarreon@desnews.com.

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