Returning Minutes, The Early Going

We are only in the second week of the season but the Montreal Impact have already returned 23,694 minutes from the 2012 season. That's a lot by modern MLS salary cap rules and the most of any team this year so far. Does that mean playoffs? An early look at returning minutes from last year to this year.

Carryover (or Returning) Minutes is the total amount of time players that have seen the pitch in current year (2013) carry with them from the previous year, while with the same club.

The formula seems simple.

Bring back as many MLS quality players as possible from the previous season and you will probably win more games.

Is that formula proving to be true so far this young season?

First things first, though. Is the season too young to pull anything out of it? MLS has seen 17 games, 287 players and 33,660* total minutes already this year (along with 45 Goals, 39 assists, 392 shots, 46 Yellows - for the heck of it).

Looking at any individual team by themselves won’t tell you much but taking all of them as a group pulls in enough data points to give us something meaningful.

The top 8 MLS teams in returning minutes from last year are averaging 2.14 Points per Game (PPG) this year. The bottom 11 are averaging 1.15 PPG.

Below will be a more detailed look at each team by grouping them based on total returning minutes then measuring how well those teams do as a group.

RETURNING MINS : TEAM

[GROUP 1]
23694 : Montreal Impact
22692 : Houston Dynamo
21918 : Sporting Kansas City

This top group has 4 wins, 0 draws, 1 loss. Houston and KC are expected to be up top. Over the past few years both have proven to be a couple of the better run franchises in the league - but Montreal? Intriguing. They’ve won their first two games so far. It shouldn’t be that surprising, lots of experience on this team. They are looking to be a playoff team if they stay healthy.

Next group up are all returning around 20,000 minutes. This works out to be about 60% of total 2012 minutes.

[GROUP 2]
20878 : Philadelphia Union
20793 : San Jose
20138 : DC United
19308 : Vancouver Whitecaps
19223 : LA Galaxy

The surprise in this next group is Philly but he rest are playoff contenders. It’s interesting to see LA carrying over minutes as they don’t have to. Brush aside David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane for a second. What Bruce Arena is doing out there is great for the league. They obviously value player retention as a key to success (antithesis of how NY Red Bulls operate). Keep in mind they’ve only played one game as well. A second game might draw in more returning minutes and put them in Group 1.

Next up we start to see teams that are more or less bottom half or, at most, playoff contenders. Players that have already seen mins in 2013 from this group are returning 40-50% of their minutes from last year.

[GROUP 3]
17089 : Chicago Fire
16816 : FC Dallas
16138 : Seattle Sounders
16021 : Columbus Crew
15962 : New England Revolution
15368 : Real Salt Lake
14536 : Colorado Rapids

The Last group of teams are returning less than 30%. In Portland’s case, 26%.

[GROUP 4]
12185 : Toronto FC
9860 : Chivas USA
9488 : NY Red Bulls
8901 : Portland Timbers

Going to compare groups using a couple key performance metrics now that the data is in a somewhat usable form.

Points Per Game
2.40 : Group 1 (12 of 15 possible points, 80%)
2.00 : Group 2 (18 of 27 possible pts, 67%)
1.00 : Group 3 (12 of 36 possible pts, 33%)
1.00 : Group 4 (8 of 24 possible pts, 33%)

Average Goal Difference
+1.00 : Group 1
+0.33 : Group 2
-0.38 : Group 4
-0.42 : Group 3

Group 3 and 4 seem awfully close at first but upon second look you see that Group 3 is being dragged down by Chicago - if you take them out then the groups fall perfectly in line with returning mins. What this means is that Chicago, right now, is more of an out of control data point than a team.

PPG
2.40 : Group 1
2.00 : Group 2
1.20 : Group 3
1.00 : Group 4

GD
+1.00 : Group 1
+0.33 : Group 2
+0.00 : Group 3
-0.38 : Group 4

What this demonstrates is that this season is playing out in a similar way to the last two seasons, at least in the very early going. Major League Soccer’s salary cap rules might work against it but it’s clear that year over year continuity is important. In fact, it could be argued it is more important that talent (click here for more information on last year's playoffs and returning minutes).

Will NY stay second to last or teams finish exactly in this fashion? Of course not. But will at least 6 of the top 8 teams in Group 1 and 2 make the playoffs? Yes.

THE CREW

Columbus finds themselves 9th overall and 7th in the East on this list of returning minutes in the early going.


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*33,660 also happens to be the total number of possible minutes available for an individual team over the course of the regular season. 34 Games x 90 Min x 11 Positions. The reason I liked to cut it here was because 17 games have been played. 17 Games x 2 teams = 34 matches. 33,660 minutes. If the first 17 games were a team they’d have 45 Goals, 39 assists, 392 shots, 46 Yellows. An average stat line very similar to the 2012 Crew.

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