MLS is Again Match format is unfair to six groups


When Main League Soccer returns from a four-month coronavirus layoff, its 26 groups will collect in Orlando for a match whose format is basically unfair.

A design flaw will tilt the taking part in subject in opposition to six of the 26 groups earlier than the competitors even begins.

Structurally, every of these six groups — Orlando Metropolis, Inter Miami, NYCFC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Hearth and Nashville — has a lower than 50 p.c probability of advancing to the knockout stage.

Every of the opposite 20 groups has a better than 65 p.c probability of advancing.

Right here’s the place MLS seemingly went incorrect, and the way it may repair the flaw with a easy adjustment.

The issue with MLS’ format

No 26-team match will be fully balanced. MLS’ plan to accommodate the awkward quantity was to make use of a typical 24-team format — six teams of 4, then a 16-team knockout spherical — and easily add two groups to 1 group.

Thus, we’ve got:

Like on the Girls’s World Cup, the highest two groups from every group will advance to the knockout stage, together with the 4 greatest third-place groups. And that’s the place the six-team group turns into problematic.

Group A will ship both 33 p.c or 50 p.c of its groups to the knockout stage. Each different group will ship both 50 p.c or 75 p.c of its groups.

The maths is complicated, however a given Group A workforce — say, the Philadelphia Union — has round a 48 p.c probability of qualifying for the knockouts. A given non-Group A workforce — say, the New England Revolution — has round a 66 p.c probability.

Under is one breakdown a reader handed alongside, with the acknowledgement that it exaggerates the disparity barely. (The chance that the third-place Group A workforce is among the many 4 greatest third-place groups is, genuinely, better than 66.67 p.c. The above calculations estimate it at 90 p.c, with the qualification chance for every of the opposite 5 third-place groups at 62 p.c.)

PROB OF QUAL = chance of ending 1st + chance of ending 2nd + chance of ending Third and forward of no less than two different Third-place finishers. (Courtesy of Caleb Wilson)

These chances, after all, don’t account for workforce high quality. However the draw was largely unseeded. MLS positioned Orlando and Miami, as host and host’s rival, into Group A deliberately. The opposite 4 have been randomly drawn, and thus dealt an obstacle with out doing something to deserve it.

How MLS may repair the error

To some, this can be a minor qualm. However the match stakes are important: a $1.1 million prize pool and a CONCACAF Champions League berth. The distinction in knockout spherical chances is critical as effectively. And, maybe most significantly, there’s a easy repair.

Somewhat than give the 16 knockout berths to 6 group winners, six runner-ups and 4 third-place groups, MLS may tweak that allocation to:

  • Six group winners

  • Six runner-ups

  • The third-place workforce from Group A

  • The three highest point-earners out of A) the opposite 5 third-place finishers, and B) the fourth-place workforce from Group A

In different phrases: the highest 50 p.c of every group ought to qualify robotically. After which of the next-best groups in every group, the highest three ought to qualify as effectively.

The adjusted format would give a mean Group A workforce, roughly, a 59 p.c probability of advancing and a non-Group A workforce, roughly, a 62 p.c probability. It might shut the chance hole between Group A and the remaining from round 18 share factors down to three.

Under is the analogous math breakdown – once more with the caveat that the fourth of six in Group A will, on common, end with extra factors than the third of 4 in a standard group. So the chance of Group A sending 4 groups is barely larger than depicted right here.

PROB OF QUAL (GROUP A) = chance of ending 1st + chance of 2nd + chance of Third + chance of ending 4th and forward of three Third-place finishers from different teams. (Courtesy of Caleb Wilson)

And right here – by way of American Soccer Evaluation’ predictive information, factoring in workforce energy – is a extra scientific take a look at the imbalance of the present format vs. the relative fairness of the proposed answer:

Penalties of the flawed format

Put one other means: Ending top-four in a six-team group is extra spectacular than ending top-three in a four-team group. But beneath the present format, the workforce that finishes fourth within the six-team group can’t advance; no less than three of the 5 who end third of their four-team teams will advance. That’s backwards.

The truth is, beneath the present format, there’s a practical state of affairs the place a Group A workforce on six factors will get overlooked of the knockout spherical in favor of a workforce on one or two factors:

(Courtesy of Caleb Wilson)

It’s unclear whether or not MLS acknowledged this flaw, or whether or not it thought of fairer options. The league didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The match begins July 8.

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