There's been some talk from sides across MLS -- including Real Salt Lake, certainly -- that the impact of having to switch personnel is a an undoubtedly negative one. On one hand, it's easy to find some logic to that -- it's never easier when your best players leave the lineup, at least in the short term. But the correlation between points and average changes is low -- as you can see in the chart below the table.
This data shows each team's lineup changes across the season, including in the playoffs.
|Team||Matches||Avg.||Std Dev||Reg. Season Points|
|New England Revolution||.324322232341.133.464225..132.1.231.||2.11||1.5487||51|
|New York Red Bulls||.31321212213432244.1.11121331142422||2.03||1.1674||59|
|Real Salt Lake||..1661322214512.26634455156212x831221||3.19||2.3643||56|
|San Jose Earthquakes||..122213112421133352333.3123321225||2.18||1.2107||51|
|Seattle Sounders FC||.4344244323423123432.441411324615124||2.86||1.375||52|
|Sporting Kansas City||..223....44421243121213.2434514224232||2.19||1.4505||58|
Key: .-- no players changed; x--ten changes; a--all players changed
What this means for Real Salt Lake, then, is not that it's wrong to be upset about some of the absences through the season that impacted our play. But it's worth considering that lineup changes impacted every team in different ways, and that each team responds differently to it. Of course, this raw look at lineup changes doesn't speak to whether those changes were forced or entirely voluntarily, but quantifying that is a difficult task at any rate.
You do see that, of the teams to have made the playoffs, Real Salt Lake averaged the most lineup changes through the season (3.19), and Houston Dynamo averaged the least (1.56). The Dynamo are nearly within a single standard deviation (0.55) of the average (2.15), while Real Salt Lake are just within two standard deviations of the mean. In fact, the only outlier is D.C. United, outside two standard deviations at 3.39 average lineup changes over the season.
We might suppose that Portland Timbers can owe some of their recent success (I say smirking, but only a little) to a low number of changes late in the season. But by the same token, some of Real Salt Lake's most successful matches came with more changes than that. Further investigation is certainly necessary.
These numbers don't mean everything, but they certainly mean something. At the very least, it grounds some concerns and raises others. An examination of a less parity-driven league would be elucidative.
From Real Salt Lake's perspective, we can even use these numbers as illustrations of the fact that we've been growing a deeper squad over the season, and that this has enabled us to be successful in spite of our numerous changes. Is it a measure of coping mechanisms? It's difficult to say definitively, but there's hardly any point denying that we have a deep squad, with which we've been successful in the long run.