Playoff Picture: Through Orange and Blue Glasses

Tonight, FC Cincinnati take on Saint Louis FC, and with only 4 games remaining for the Orange and Blue, everyone is naturally starting to talk about statistics and the playoff race.

There are so many ways to look at this, including probability studies, points per game, maximum point possible, etc. Most of these methods assume teams will continue to perform as they have performed and don’t assume teams get hot at the end or taper off from game fatigue. Some assume that teams suddenly perform worse case or best case. All of these have value, but sometimes, working it all out can be very complex.

I prefer a pragmatic approach to this. What can our team do? What do they need to do? This requires some statistics but I’ll try to keep them simple and minimal.

Who’s In and Who’s Out?

First, let’s look at the standings and what we absolutely know (based on statistics, I know, I just said….). We’ll keep this simple and will not look at which teams play each other and how that affects maximum points possible. The table below shows the current standings including an extra column for maximum points, if they win every remaining game.

So what do we know? Louisville City FC has secured a playoff spot. There are only 4 other teams that could pass their current number of points of 54 assuming those teams won every game remaining. LouCity is actually very close to clinching a home playoff birth.

Charlotte has also clinched a playoff spot. If every other team got maximum points, they’d be tied for 8th with Orlando on points, but Orlando would have 12 wins and Charlotte would have 13 so based on tie breaker rules, Charlotte would be in the playoffs.

In addition, Toronto FC II will not be in the playoffs. Their maximum points possible of 31, isn’t anywhere high enough to knock anyone out of a playoff position.

That leaves 12 teams trying to win one of the remaining 6 playoff spots since the top 8 teams will participate.

Making the Playoffs

FC Cincinnati currently sits in 6th place and in the playoffs. Looking behind them at teams trying to knock them out, there is a lot of good news. Only 2 teams have “games in hand.” Ottowa has one extra game to play. Assuming they win that extra game, they have 35 points and are still behind us. Bethlehem has 2 extra games to play, assuming they win both, they will have 41 points and knock us down to 7th place, but still in the playoffs.

So what does that mean? What do we need to do? What it means is that our fate is 100% in our own hands. We aren’t relying on teams to fail or fall or defeat other teams. We just need to play as well as all of the teams below us.

Even better, we have a little slack to play with. Assuming Bethlehem passes us with their games in hand, and let’s assume New York also passes us. That knocks FCC into 8th position. So where are the threats? With one win more than we achieve over the remaining games, Orlando would tie us on points, but with 9 wins (8 currently plus the extra win) to our current 10, we would still beat them on the first tie breaker rule of league wins. All of the teams below Orlando will have to do better than a single win more than us. An extra 3 points still puts them behind us.

So looking at this in a very simple way, FC Cincinnati’s playoff chances look good. We can drop one game more than any of the teams below us and none of them can knock us out of the playoffs. Again, this is in our hands. We have control.

A Playoff Game at Nippert

The next big question everyone wants to know is if we can get a home playoff game. The answer is yes, but the odds aren’t nearly as good and we don’t have control over the situation. Other teams will have to fall to make it happen. To get a home playoff game, we have to finish in the top four. Currently sitting in 6th place that means that we have to pass 2 teams.

We can’t pass Louisville City FC even if we win all remaining games. With a single win in their remaining 4 games, Charlotte will be in the same position so seems very unlikely we could pass them as well. Charleston isn’t quite as safe, but with an 8 point gap between them and FCC, they seem pretty safe from us knocking them out of a home playoff birth.

That leaves us looking at the Rhinos. There is only a 4 point gap, so that looks achievable. Of course, this is not in our hands. We will be relying on other teams to defeat them to allow us to close that gap and they have a “game in hand.”

At the same time, we’ve got Tampa Bay, in 5th position thinking the same thing and they have 2 “games in hand.” And let’s not forget about Bethlehem, with their extra games and the ability to pass us on points with those.

So a home playoff game is possible, if Rochester stumbles, and we can get some good results from Tampa and Bethlehem. There are a lot of “ifs” required. Best to just focus on one game at a time and see how some of the other games shake out over the next few weeks.

What Can We Do?

With all of that in mind, let’s focus on tonight, cheer on the Orange and Blue and give our team our support. Show up at watch parties and get active on social media. The team is watching and the support of this city and its fans DO make a difference. Tell them you believe. Tell them you’re with them, and if you’re in Saint Louis, scream loudly.

The post season potential is high. And once you’re in the playoffs, any team can win. Another cup run is within our grasp.

@billwwolf for @CincySoccerTalk

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