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RSL 1010: What's up with those Power Rankings?

Some fans love them, others hate them; many are just indifferent to them. What is it about sports Power Rankings that draws so much discussion?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Power Rankings are odd things.  Many sports have them, but all are universally just fodder for discussion, which is likely why they persist.  As long as some fans are interested in seeing how their team compares to others - beyond just the league table or scoreboard.  People go there to either agree that Team X is indeed rated accurately, or is positively WAY off base.

Nearly two years ago now one sportswriter came up with one of the best guidelines for Power Rankings; and I have included it on each of my articles since:

"If two teams played tomorrow, given their current injury concerns, form, and other considerations, who is likely to win on a neutral field? This list is designed to tell you who we feel is most likely to win that match-up. All things being equal, who is the best team going forward, based on what we know now?"

— Richard Farley, NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk. 3/11/14

I have tracked MLS Power Rankings since 2012 and have done articles on them for last 3 years in some form. Some sites do sort of follow the 'guidelines' Mr. Farley set out, while others go with their own methodology. There really isn't any right or wrong way to do Power Rankings, since it's all primarily a judgement call on the writer's part. Some sites take the purely analytic view based on player performance, attack/defense, possession, etc., while others are entirely result based; win and you go up, lose you go down.

Rather than doing just another "Power Ranking" for RSL Soapbox, I opted to take a different approach; find as many Power Ranking lists that I could and average them to get a more 'accurate' ranking.  Let's start with last year's ending list:

  • Major League Soccer (mlssoccer.com/news/power-rankings)
  • Soccer America (socceramerica.com)
  • ESPN (espnfc.us/major-league-soccer)
  • Seattle Times Blog (seattletimes.com/author/matt-pentz)
  • Black & Red United (blackandredunited.com)
  • Sports Illustrated (soccer.si.com)
  • The Mane Land (themaneland.com)
  • Who Scored 'team rating' (whoscored.com/Regions/233/Tournaments/85/USA-Major-League-Soccer)
  • Reddit MLS subreddit (reddit/r/mls)
  • Soccer In America (soccer-in-america.com)
  • NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk (prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com)
  • Bleacher Report (bleacherreport.com/mls)
  • Jeff Sagarin's MLS Rankings (sagarin.com/sports/soccer.htm - overall ranking not "recent")
  • Squawka (squawka.com/football-team-rankings#performance-score#team-stats#us-major-league-soccer)
  • MLS Fantasy Boss (mlsfantasyboss.com)

There were several other sites earlier in the season, but one of the common trends among sites is they fade as the season goes on.  I may start the season with 15–20, and end with 10–12.  I don't remove any of those sites from the earlier rankings, they just aren't counted from the date of their last ranking.  You may also note that the list above has several 'team-related' sites (fan blogs etc...); I'm not going to remove a site for being dedicated to one team, and if you've followed my articles last year you may note that I include a 'bias list' to show what sites are closest to the average; and for last year, one team-specific site (Orlando City's The Mane Land) was the second-most accurate overall.

To help counter possible bias among sites, I use the 'Olympic method' of dropping the highest and lowest scores for the week for each team, then averaging the rest.  The sites that are mainly 'analytic' in nature (Who Scored, Squawka, Jeff Sagarin) I mainly consider a 'control' group to give a pure ranking that is not based on emotions.

To whet your appetite and opinions for the 2016 Power Ranking season I'll start the ball off with an overview of final Power Ranking Averages from 2012-2015.

NOTE - The 'weighted average' is a "FIFA-esque" method where previous years are given declining weight, thus 2015 is worth 90%, 2014= 75%, 2013= 50%, 2012= 25%.  This gives teams that did badly (yes, we mean you, 2013 DCU, and others) one year an offset for what otherwise would be a decent run.

Team
2012
2013
2014
2015
4-Yr Avg
Weighted Avg
Chicago Fire
7.91
14.35
15.54
17.71
13.88
12.25
Colorado Rapids
12.85
9.88
11.54
17.38
12.91
13.87
Columbus Crew
11.70
12.81
9.60
8.75
10.72
10.95
D.C. United
7.45
17.24
7.49
5.91
9.52
9.77
FC Dallas
12.88
8.58
6.35
4.64
8.11
7.74
Houston Dynamo
6.75
7.71
12.77
13.81
10.26
11.49
Los Angeles Galaxy
8.39
5.15
5.23
4.51
5.82
5.76
Montreal Impact
13.99
5.17
17.54
15.06
12.94
13.91
New England Revolution
14.78
12.52
9.66
9.50
11.62
11.66
New York City FC
-
-
-
15.47
15.47
15.47
New York Red Bulls
5.58
6.52
10.05
4.68
6.71
7.14
Orlando City
-
-
-
14.21
14.21
14.21
Philadelphia Union
15.19
10.45
11.85
18.07
13.89
14.72
Portland Timbers
15.88
5.83
11.64
9.45
10.70
10.75
Real Salt Lake
3.70
4.58
4.12
12.43
6.21
7.14
Seattle Sounders
5.07
9.38
2.86
6.07
5.85
6.07
San Jose Earthquakes
2.61
12.38
15.20
11.14
10.33
11.8
Sporting Kansas City
3.07
4.48
5.64
6.35
4.89
5.44
Toronto FC
17.85
16.83
8.97
9.75
13.35
13.12
Vancouver Whitecaps
8.95
10.33
7.98
5.09
8.09
8.16

I'm not going to make any predictions for the coming year. Given the nature of the league, turnarounds from year to year are common; only a handful of teams have been consistently near the top, and no team has been on the bottom for the full 4 years I've tracked; not to mention the two teams that have only one year of rankings to compare. Around the first week of March, sites will start publishing their Preseason Power Rankings and predictions for 2016. Take them with a pinch of salt — or whatever drink you prefer.  Just know that there'll be plenty to debate about throughout the season so gear up with your best arguments and dive in!

As always, if you come across a Power Ranking site I don't have, please leave a comment here or future Power Rankings articles, drop me an email, or catch me on Twitter or Reddit!