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Orlando City's Playoff Picture Explained by Elo Ratings

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Elo ratings for the Eastern Conference show the current landscape for team performance. Thanks to American Soccer Analysis, we can get a clearer picture by checking these ratings.

Coach Adrian Heath looks like he knows OCSC needs some help.
Coach Adrian Heath looks like he knows OCSC needs some help.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Elo ratings have been used to gauge team performance when compared to league or international standings for some time. Arpad Elo, the creator of the ratings and an American physics professor, first developed the system for rating chess players. This system should not be considered the end all for rating team performance, but over time it can show interesting patterns in team performance when compared to current league standings.

Elo ratings allocate points based on the outcomes of games played. Elo is also known as a "zero sum system," where all points that are awarded to a team for a win are subtracted from the team defeated in that match. The system also rewards teams for upsets. Take, as an example, a bottom table team taking out the conference leader; in this scenario, the bottom table team will earn more points than usual because of the upset and the conference leader will lose that same amount of points.

The current MLS form of Elo ratings, created by American Soccer Analysis writer Tom Worville, looked at goal differential from the 2014 season to create a base rating. The Philadelphia Union, which had a goal differential of 0 (scoring and conceding the same amount) was given a total of 2000 points, and other teams were ranked either higher or lower than the Union depending on their goal differential (a team that scored more goals than it conceded would have a score greater than 2000).  After goal differential, the model takes into account the result of the previous match between two teams, thus becoming fluid.

Below are trending Eastern Conference Elo ratings up to July 18, 2015, with current numerical Elo ratings at the bottom of this article.


The Elo ratings do not mirror standings exactly, as seen when comparing the current Eastern Conference standings to the current Elo ratings; but, they can show insight on team performance within the competition. The top three teams in the Eastern Conference MLS standings and Elo ratings currently sit, on average, 100 Elo points above the fourth-place team -- Toronto -- while standing 4.3 league points above the fourth-place team as well. Clearly D.C., Columbus and the Red Bulls are playing some good football.

1 D.C. United 35 22 1.59 10 7 5 24 20 4 18 8 6 -4
2 Columbus Crew SC 31 22 1.41 8 7 7 34 33 1 27 11 7 -10
3 New York Red Bulls 29 19 1.53 8 6 5 29 23 6 14 6 15 0
4 Toronto FC 28 19 1.47 8 7 4 31 31 0 10 3 21 -3
5 New England Revolution 27 22 1.23 7 9 6 27 33 -6 16 8 11 -14
6 Montreal Impact 24 18 1.33 7 8 3 25 27 -2 18 9 7 -11
7 Orlando City SC 24 20 1.2 6 8 6 23 26 -3 12 -1 11 -2
8 Philadelphia Union 22 21 1.05 6 11 4 26 34 -8 14 4 12 -12
9 New York City FC 21 20 1.05 5 9 6 24 28 -4 15 -2 9 -2
10 Chicago Fire 18 19 0.95 5 11 3 20 28 -8 12 2 8 -10

But the mane concern here -- apologies for that pun -- is that Orlando is on the cliff that denotes the difference between a playoff team and a team that gets to sleep while others play for trophies. In Elo ratings, Orlando currently has 1946 points, good for seventh place, while, prior to Saturday night when Montreal passed Orlando on total points, they were sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt (six teams from each conference make the MLS playoffs).

Also, if you look at standings by points per game played, Orlando currently sits seventh -- exactly where the Elo ratings show them to be. Unfortunately for the Lions, they are on a downward trend, dropping 24 Elo points from their season high of 1970 on July 4.

The purpose of this article is not to point out that Elo ratings are wonderful or that this miraculous way of measuring performance can give us new insights into the world of football. Rather, the point of the article is to imply that Orlando needs to pick up the pace and find something to push the club into a new gear if the MLS newcomers hope to make the playoffs in the inaugural season and "Defy Expectations".

Team Current Elo
New York Red Bulls 2044
DC United 2042
Columbus Crew 2030
Toronto FC 1993
New England Revolution 1988
Philadelphia Union 1966
Orlando City 1946
Montreal Impact 1926
New York City 1911
Chicago Fire 1909