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USL Playoff Picture Taking Shape

By D.J. Switzer, 09/21/17, 5:30PM EDT


Though it might seem like the 2017 regular season just started a few days ago, believe it or not, it's actually beginning to wind to a close. As such, many have shifted their thoughts to the rapidly approaching 2017 USL Playoffs that lay ahead.

With just four matches remaining in FC Cincinnati's regular season campaign, the team currently find themselves sitting in sixth place on 39 points. As of right now, that's good enough to see the Orange & Blue make the eight-team field for the Eastern Conference playoffs. But, that doesn't mean we will when the regular season comes to a close in mid-October.

A pack of nine teams still have a mathematical shot at grabbing what will likely be three final playoff berths. The top five teams in the East -- Louisville, Charlotte, Charleston, Rochester and Tampa Bay -- are all but a disaster away from locking up the higher seeds. Though there's a chance that a few of those lower down the totem pole could still squeak in to one of the top four spots that host a playoff game.

So what do FC Cincinnati's playoff chances actually look like? 

To answer that question, I took to the current USL standings and did a little math. Keep in mind that there are a many different ways to calculate the statistical likelihood of any individual team making the playoffs, and that none is full proof. So nothing that follows is dogma; it's just meant to illustrate some of the potential outcomes.

In order to get a better look at what FCC's playoff chances are, let's examine how each Eastern Conference club has performed thus far in the 2017 regular season, and then apply that towards the remaining matches on their schedule. To do that, I looked at four numbers: matches played, current point total, and number of matches remaining. From those numbers, a three further numbers were calculated: points earned per game, expected point total and a maximum point total.  

Points earned per game (PPG) is the season-long average number of points earned in each match. Knowing that, you can then roughly calculate the number of points each team is likely to earn by multiplying their PPG by their remaining number of matches in their schedule to determine each club's expected point total (EPT). Furthermore, each team also has a maximum point total (MPT) they can earn in their remaining matches assuming they win out. 

Doing all that produces the chart below, which paints a pretty interesting picture of the current USL Eastern Conference playoff scenarios. 

On initial glance, you'll notice that only one side is mathematically eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs: Toronto FC II. Neither their maximum points of 30 nor their expected points of 24 would be enough to eclipse the current playoff line set at 36 points. Otherwise, all fourteen other clubs still have a shot -- even if for some the odds are pretty long.

As it stands right now, if every club achieves their expected totals, FCC will stay right where we are in the table: sixth. Though admittedly, that might not be as cut and dry as it might seem. Though FCC have a 1.39 points per game so far this season -- which would lift them to an expected 51 points by season's end -- their form on the road (0.75 PPG) has been far worse this season than at home, and I didn't account for match locations in my calculations. 

However, in this simplified view at least, FCC's odds of making the playoffs do look pretty good at this point in time. 

In fact, it's still possible that the Orange & Blue could finish as high as second in the table if they earn all 12 points still available to them and a bunch of other results go our way too. On the flip side, it's also still possible that the team could miss the playoffs entirely.  The odds of either scenario are pretty slim though, and the guys are far more likely to finish in spots four through eight than above or below that range. 

Moving up into the top four places that host, however, will be difficult. Both fourth place Rochester (1) and fifth place Tampa Bay (2) have matches in hand, and the extra games remaining mean their maximum and expected point totals could keep them out of reach. Below us, things remain tighter from a point perspective -- though most of the chasing pack don't have extra matches in their back pockets.

How will it all pan out? We'll have to wait for the results on the road, and hope that the guys improve their form away from Nippert. Doing so will at bare minimum solidify our place the playoffs... or potentially earn us the ability to host one too.