Missing the playoffs
I sort of touched on this before, but with the way MLS works, it seems that missing the playoffs is better than just getting in. That's due to the YSA (you suck allocation) and the draft order.
The 2005 Los Angeles Galaxy are the only team for whom sneaking in actually worked out. The seeds for the MLS Cup winners in the are 2-1-2-1-1-5-1-1-2-4. The three bold numbers are for 2000-2002, where all playoff teams were seeded 1-8. The rest were the seeds within the conference playoffs.
26 teams missed the playoffs from 1996-2004. 17 of 25 would go on to make the playoffs the next year (TB 2001 did not have a chance), or 68%. Overall, in ten seasons of MLS 72.7% of teams have made the playoffs. Not a big difference there.
For teams that missed the playoffs, the average change in Adjusted PPG (APPG) is 0.30 per game. That's a difference of 9.66 points in a 32 game season. The average change for playoff teams is -0.09, but that's not a really meaningful number considering how many teams make the playoffs. To figure out if what I said in the opening paragraph is true, I am now going to take a look at teams who made the playoffs despite a losing record, and see how the did the next season. The only team at with a non-losing record to miss the playoffs is the 2005 Kansas City Wizards. Of course, I'm counting shootouts as draws like usual (or else the "19-13" 1999 San Jose Earthquakes wouldn't count. They were really 9-10-13).
There are 25 such teams from 1996-2004, exactly the same number as the playoff teams that they'll be compared with. While that group included teams like 2004 NE/SJ, who improved significantly the next year, it also included some teams that dropped off badly, like the 1998 Metros. Overall, those teams improved by an average of 0.12 APPG, or 3.79 points over the course of a 32 game season. Like I figured, not as good as the teams that missed the playoffs. Here's a nice summary of the data:
I don't know how much some of the non-playoff teams will have improved this year (CLB, RSL), but it seems like not much. That's similar to the 1999 season, like 2006, the second season after expansion to 12 teams. That year three of the four teams that missed the playoffs also missed them in 1998. This
There's no real comparison to make this season, because none of the playoff teams had a losing record last year. That's because two teams were absolutely awful last season. COL and LA were both only .500, though. But they were always assured of their playoff spots. Perhaps a better comparison would be to look at each year individually. For example, take the non-playoff teams and an equal number of the worst playoff teams for each year, and see who did better in the following season. That's what I'm going to look at next.
So for this season, you would think that KC/CLB/RSL/CHV would improve more as a whole than CHI/NY/COL/LA (or, if you want to take just the lowest seeds that made it, NY/LA). The thing about this year though, is that RSL/CHV can improve hugely without actually being good, just like the 2004 Dallas Burn. If both of them play .500 soccer, then they'll be among the top improvements in league history.