Monday, October 05, 2009

Home Field Dis-Advantage

A lot has been made this year over the home struggles of the Chicago Fire and the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Fire are doing much better away (1.64 PPG) than at home (1.29 PPG). The Galaxy were in that same boat, but they've won their last two home games and are now sporting equal marks (1.57 PPG) home and away. The Wizards are also close to being equal (home = 4-5-4, away = 4-6-4).

What the Fire and Galaxy are doing is rare historically in Major League Soccer. I've covered home field advantage before; the number is around 0.67 PPG for all of MLS history. So for the Fire to have a -0.35, that's on pace for the second lowest mark in league history. In fact, only nine of the 149 team seasons from 1996-2008 have seen a team's away record be equal to or better than their home record. Those teams are:

Home Away
1999 New York 0.625 0.625
1998 Tampa Bay 1.188 1.250
2003 San Jose 1.667 1.733
1997 San Jose 1.063 1.188
1999 Tampa Bay 1.125 1.313
1998 Los Angeles 2.063 2.313
1999 DC United 1.750 2.000
2003 New York 1.267 1.533
2002 New York 1.000 1.500

A mix of teams good and bad. There are two MLS Cup winners in the group, though both excelled in both categories (like 2009 LA) rather than being poor at home (2009 CHI). As always, I'm counting shootouts as draws.

How have these nine teams done in the playoffs? Would you expect them to do better on the road there as well? First, four of them failed to qualify. Of the other five, the results are as follows:

  • LA 1998. Easily disposed of the Dallas Burn in round one, winning home and away. They lost to Chicago after a 0:1 home loss and a 1:1 away draw (shootout loss). So they did slightly better away.
  • TB 1999. Swept out of the playoffs after equal 0:2 results away and home against Columbus.
  • DC 1999. Won the MLS Cup after winning the Supporters' Shield. They played much better at home in those playoffs. Started off by sweeping Miami in two games after a home win and an away draw (shootout win). Defeated Columbus by winning both home games in between a 1:5 shellacking in Crew Stadium.
  • NY 2003. Lost the opener vs NE at home 0:2, then drew 1:1 away to lose by two on aggregate.
  • SJ 2003. Won the MLS Cup after famously coming back from four goals down on aggregate in the quarterfinals (at home). Won both home games and lost the only away game.
It's interesting that neither of the MLS Cup winners in this group got there by getting an away result in the playoffs. They both played much better at home. Of course, as I mentioned earlier both were excellent in both categories in the regular season (so basically, they were good wherever they played).

Anyway, expecting home and/or away form to carry over into the small sample size that is the MLS playoffs isn't very realistic. One of the top ten disparities on the other side (that is, playing much, much better at home) was last year's New York Red Bulls, and they ended up winning two straight away games to make the final.

I don't expect the home/away records of Chicago and LA to have an impact on this year's playoffs. I certainly don't think Fire fans should want their team to get a lower seed so they can play more away games. That's not going to help.

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