If you looked back at how many league minute gaining players each team carried from the 2011 season to 2012 and simply listed them out by most players returning you would have something that looked very close the the final table.
Here are are the teams that carried over the most league minute gainers from 2011 to 2012*.
HOU, RSL, SJE, SKC, FCD, DCU, LAG
All the above teams made the MLS playoffs, save for Dallas (pretty sure they underachieved last year, also injuries). Again, those above saw the most play in both 2011 and 2012.
Now, here are the rest. Only 4 of the 11 teams** returning less than half their minute gainers from 2011 made the 2012 playoff.
TFC, SEA, CLB, COL, PDX, VAN, CHI, NER, PHI, NY, CHIVAS
With preseason training starting up let’s take a look at what teams have put themselves in good position. Here are those that currently have more than 18 players listed on their roster that were minute gainers with the same club in 2012***:
MTL, CHIVAS, SEA, LAG, SKC, VAN CHI, HOU
...and here are those that are bringing back 18 or less.
NER, PHI, CLB, SJE, DCU, FCD, RSL, PDX, TFC, COL, NY
The clubs are listed in descending order (Montreal with 21, New York only returning 13).
Six of the top eight teams returning minute gainers were in the playoffs last year. The two exceptions listed first, Montreal and especially Chivas USA, are surprising. There is not any real surprises with the clubs returning <18 from 2012 but it should be noted that San Jose, DC United and RSL (in full rebuild mode, from an outsiders perspective) have dropped down the list from last year’s results.
RETURNING THE CORE
Another way to evaluate what a club is returning is to look at aggregate minutes returning from last year. This could be viewed as measure for the ever popular soccer phrase "returning a core group."
Last year in MLS each team played 34 games which means there were 33,660 total regular season minutes available (34 GMs x 90 MIN x 11 Positions).
From there, if you add up the total minutes returning players had for each team and divide it by total possible minutes (33,660) you’ll get a % of minutes returning, ie. % of the "core" in 2012 coming back for 2013.
% MINS RETURNING TO 2013 by CLUB
86% : SJE
86% : SKC
85% : DCU
84% : SEA
81% : VAN
81% : MTL
79% : CHI
79% : NER
78% : CHIVAS
77% : LAG
77% : HOU
72% : RSL
71% : PHI
68% : FCD
68% : CLB [Updated: 58%]
67% : PDX
65% : TFC
62% : NYR
51% : COL
San Jose and DC United make the biggest jump from aggregate number of player returning to % of minutes returning. Coaches and technical staff make a big deal out of returning the "core". The info above shows who is actually doing that.
When looking things in relationship to the rest of the league you can see why Crew GM Mark McCullers called it an "evolving core" (TheCrew.com video interview, "Mark McCullers 2012 Season In Review", November 2nd, 2012) because they hollowed out 32% of their league minutes last year. What that equates to is almost 4 players a match over a 34 game game season.
The Crew also have a phase for dropping a third of the team, calling it "normal attrition" but you can see by the numbers above it is measurably less than the league norm (median or average).
EARLY PRESEASON CONCLUSIONS
• As things stand with comparison to the rest of the league, 2013 Columbus is looking at a mid-table finish (likely a slight erosion in results).
• It’s important that the Crew try and retain Milovan Mirosevic (regardless of performance) and remove Dilly Duka from any trades or transfers [UPDATED]. Unless the club has a player named Thierry Henry and enough money for multiple DPs, a club like the Crew losing two more players from last year’s roster this close to the season virtually eliminates their chances of reaching the playoffs.
• I’ve looked at the relationship between season success and returning players and minutes over at Helltown a few times over the past few months and can say with certainty that returning players can be used as a predictor.
• If you were to only use ‘returning players’ before last year’s season start you would have predicted 4 of the top 5 teams correctly on the combined table. Important also, both MLS Cup participants were towards the top.
• Hunt Sports Group’s other MLS team - FC Dallas - is eerily similar as Crew by these measures.
• Because of the strong relationship between year over year turnover rate and table position you could use a Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) tool and weight these two measurements in this post heavily as a way to reduce risk of, well, table failure (not making the playoffs).
• FMEA is risk mitigation. It is responsible for things like; Your microwave turning off when you open it, a elevator door not crushing you when it closes, or the diesel pump nozzle not fitting your unleaded tank.
[UPDATE: A couple hours after this post Columbus has stated that Mirosevic is not returning and Duka is likely out due to trade].
*Data combined from publicly available Stats, Inc reports.
**4 of 12 teams if you include first year in the league Montreal Impact
***Since it’s the offseason, getting reliable club rosters is tricky. A combination of Wikipedia and each team’s official website was used to put the rosters together. Transfer Markt and Soccerway were also used to verify lists of clubs who aren’t diligent about the comings and goings of roster activity. Wiki turned out to be the most reliable, though, of course not perfect.