Following last Sunday's Statistical Showdown piece focusing on forwards, we closed out the positional comparisons for Orlando City and the average MLS player and now this weekly article will be moving into season form. Throughout the 2016 season we will be using this weekly article to focus on player comparisons, team comparisons, run of form and other statistical highlights. This week, the Sunday Statistical Showdown will focus on Orlando's 2016 season schedule and whether or not the Lions are the favorite or underdog in each match, as well as if the match looks to close to call.
As the 2016 MLS season edges closer and closer, articles highlighting each team's schedules this coming year have been coming out left and right, including strength of schedule pieces. Orlando in this facet seems to be well placed to make a good run as it faces the fourth weakest (17th toughest) strength of schedule in MLS this season. Although three other Eastern Conference teams, who each made the playoffs in 2015, have weaker strength of schedules than Orlando: Montreal, Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls.
The strength of schedule was calculated in the same fashion as other reputable sites such as mlssoccer.com, using the 2015 average points per game at home and on the road for each team's opponent in 2016. Looking at the relative strength of schedules you can see how Orlando compares below:
However, we here at The Mane Land wanted to take this a step further and call out each respective match in Orlando's 2016 season. Using the home and away points average from 2015, we calculated the differential depending on which team was home and which team was away: an example being the opening match for Orlando, which sees the Lions taking on Real Salt Lake in Orlando. Considering Orlando is the home team we would use its average points per game at home minus Real Salt Lake's average points per game on the road to determine which team is the favorite and underdog and by how many average points.
Needing to set guidelines to determine a team's winning potential, a range from +1 to -1 was used. A +1 point in the differential will result in the team having a high chance of winning and vice versa, if they have a -1 point differential they have a high chance of a loss. If the range is between +.5 points to +1 point the team has a chance to win or draw and from -.5 to -1 points may result in a loss or draw. Lastly those matches that are within the +.5 to -.5 point differential would be considered "up for grabs." Using this data, we can see by how much Orlando is either a favorite or an underdog.
Below is the visual associated with the favorite or underdog look using point differential, where anything in green is a positive point differential and anything in red is a negative point differential. Anything in yellow is within the .5 and -.5 spread to show that the game is too close to call:
First off starting with some negatives, we can see that even though Orlando has a comparatively weak strength of schedule, there are some legitimate trouble spots throughout the season where the Lions will enter the match as severe underdogs. You can check those games out by looking at the red circles in the graph.
The first trouble spot comes during the late-April to early-May match-ups that include New York Red Bulls, New England and Kansas City all on the road. The second tough stretch is really the whole month of July, where Orlando is on the road four out of six matches facing off against Dallas, Red Bulls, Vancouver and Columbus. Finally the last tough stretch is in September where Orlando must travel to Montreal, LA Galaxy, DC United, and Toronto with one home game against Columbus sprinkled in. These types of tough away stretches for whole months at a time mean that Orlando must play well at home and hope for some upsets along the way.
Unfortunately, considering Orlando's average points at home in 2015, it really needs to face a weak opponent to be considered extreme odds-on favorites and we really only see that happening one time this season--at home against Chicago on March 11. The rest of the home matches for Orlando are either contested matches or ones where there is a chance for a draw. There are two good spots in the season that Orlando can rack up some points--excluding the first two matches of the season. Those games run from late May through June and in the month of August where Orlando has the opportunity to play at home for long stretches (denoted by green circles in visual).
Looking at some other positives we can call out the matches considered in this analysis to be too close to call. Those matches are all highlighted yellow within the visual and are all within a .5 to -.5 point differential. Considering out of those nine matches, six are away it gives Orlando the opportunity to pull a good amount of points from away matches. Interesting enough, most of those matches do not come during the aforementioned difficult stretches, but some do land in the stretches where Orlando could find some good runs of form. The opponents for those six away matches where Orlando could get some wins are against (in order of date): New York City FC, Philadelphia, New York City FC, Chicago, Colorado, and Philadelphia.
Overall the 2016 season is built for Orlando to start out hot and hopefully--after catching form--pull into some difficult road matches. The telling story for this 2016 campaign will be whether or not Orlando can win the games that the spread says will be highly contested at home and take as many points as possible from those same contested matches that are away. Having the weak strength of schedule is a good sign but when you align that with the relative strength Orlando had in the 2015 season it starts to tell a bit more of the story.