Climbing the Ladder: The impact of having the lead or not

Is winning really everything before the final whistle?

climbing the ladder

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Winning is everything, they say. But it's only everything at the final whistle. What about during the run of play? How important is it to be in the lead? Or at least level? 

Win, Lose and Draw

The New York Red Bulls may not be pulling away in the standings, but they’ve looked dominant at times. That dominance is most visible when taking a look at the breakdown of the team’s minutes played.

Over the first nine games, the Red Bulls have spent 36.3 percent of their playing time in the lead versus only 9.3 percent trailing. That comes out to a league-best “time difference” of +27 points, and it could be higher if not for a couple of missed penalties.

Historically, only the 2006 D.C. United team has a higher time difference (+29.7).

Coincidentally or not, United’s 2011 squad has the worst time difference, or TD, this season by far (-25.2 points). They’ve led 20.3 percent of the time, but have trailed a whopping 45.6 percent of minutes played. The reason for this are the many early goals they’ve conceded, although they fought back to earn a point twice against LA and Colorado.

 

Minutes winning, tied, and losing (2011 season)

 

  Winning Tied Losing   Difference GD
Chicago 16.0% 54.1% 29.9%   -13.8 -3
Chivas USA 19.8% 58.1% 22.1%   -2.3 2
Colorado 26.2% 57.7% 16.1%   +10.1 2
Columbus 14.0% 67.9% 18.1%

 

-4.2 -1
Dallas

20.3%

54.3% 25.3%   -5.0 3
DC United 20.3% 34.1% 45.6%   -25.2 -5
Houston 19.7% 58.2% 22.1%

 

-2.4 3
LA

37.3%

46.8% 15.9%   +21.4 5
New England 20.4% 60.6% 19.0%   +1.4 -3
New York 36.3% 54.4% 9.3%

 

+27.0 7
Philadelphia

23.5%

52.5% 24.1%   -0.6 0
Portland 27.7% 38.6% 33.7%   -6.0 -2
Real Salt Lake 28.9% 60.3% 10.8%

 

+18.1 7
San Jose

25.2%

54.0% 20.9%   +4.3 -1
Seattle 31.9% 47.3% 20.8%   +11.1 2
Sporting KC 22.1% 44.0% 34.0%

 

-11.9 -6
Toronto

20.4%

47.9% 31.7%   -11.3 -6
Vancouver 13.1% 62.3% 24.5%   -11.4 -4

 

Generally, teams with a positive goal difference will likewise have a positive time difference, though that’s not always the case.

Last year, Columbus ended up with a time difference of -2.1 points despite being six games over .500 and +6 in goal differential. Meanwhile, the 2010 Seattle Sounders had only a +4 GD but the third highest TD (+12.7). The year before, in 2009, MLS Cup winners Real Salt Lake had a +8 GD but a negative time difference of -9.5. This season, Dallas still have a negative TD despite their excellent record.

While New York have the most positive TD this season, LA have spent the most time winning (37.3 percent). The Galaxy are slightly down from last year’s 42.3 percent, but that was the second-best percentage ever. The team that spent the most time winning ever was the 1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny, who led 43.4 percent of the time, though they don’t rank among the top teams for goal difference.

The 1996 Mutiny are also the team that spent the least amount of time tied in league history. They were only level for less than a third of their minutes at 32.3 percent. The highest number of tied minutes goes to the 2004 Colorado Rapids, 66.5 percent. That’s when the Rapids and their opponents barely combined for more than two goals per game, as MVP finalist Joe Cannon stood on his head in the goal to make up for Colorado’s lackluster offense. This season, DC and Portland have spent the fewest minutes tied, while Columbus and Vancouver have spent the most.

Vancouver have also spent the least amount of time winning this year. However, they can’t compare to the 2005 Real Salt Lake side. Though RSL finished two points above fellow newcomers Chivas USA in 2005, RSL fell behind at some point in 28 of 32 games and finished the season with the worst-ever percentages for both time spent winning (9.1 percent) and losing (51.1 percent). That amounts to an awful -42.0 TD; Chivas somehow ended up at a much more respectable -15.5.

For anyone who remembers the dominating defensive performance of the 2000 Kansas City side, it’s no surprise they hold the record for fewest minutes losing: 10.3 percent.

Right On Schedule

Vancouver have had their hands full as of late, thanks to the schedule-makers. They have played 11 MLS games, tied for second most in the league, and the Nutrilite Canadian Championship has added dates. They played seven games in April and will play another seven this month.

While it may be tough, it’s not extraordinary. An MLS team has played eight or more competitive games in a single month on 46 occasions. Three of those teams played nine games in a month: New York in September of both 1996 and 1997, and Chicago in July 2002. And one team, D.C. United, played 10.

That monthly record came in August 1997. The schedule included five regular-season matches, three CONCACAF Champions' Cup matches, and two US Open Cup games. Eight of them were played at home, which helped alleviate the travel issues, but United, who won their second straight MLS Cup that year, finished 5-3-2 (including one shootout loss) for the month.