Monday, November 29, 2010

In Praise of the LA Galaxy's Balanced Win of the Supporters' Shield

I am working on a pretty substantial series of posts regarding MLS's playoff structure and how it penalizes teams that are more successful. I felt that I would make a quick post in the meantime, and it is based upon some of the data I observed related to the 2010 MLS season.

Followers of MLS know that LA's point total for the season was the second most dating back to 2005, when San Jose (now Houston Dynamo) racked up 64 points. Something jumped out at me when I looked at the historical data of team finish for seasons 2005-2010, and I think it suggests that perhaps LA's run this year was more impressive than Houston's.

When looking at LA's 59 point haul this year, what impressed me was the balance in where they earned their points - 29 at home and 30 on the road. This lead me to look at the historical split in teams' points totals, and I found that indeed LA is special.

Taking the 2005-2010 season data, I normalized it for the number of games played and teams in the league by calculating the per cent of available points earned by each team. I then divided the number of points earned at home by the number of points earned by the road. Plotting the data on a modified version of a production possibility frontier chart yields the plot below (click to enlarge).




The plot illustrates the balance between teams with a better balance in where they earn their points (vertical axis) versus their total points (horizontal axis). Each axis is plotted as a percentile - being higher on the vertical axis or further right on the x-axis indicates a higher percentile and thus a better score.

The two dots in the upper right corner are LA (2010) and San Jose (2005), with LA being the point on top. While San Jose did score more overall points, they did so by getting a greater proportion of them at home vs. away (in fact both Houston and LA scored the same amount on the road). One should also note that all other teams at the 80th percentile or greater for total points earned ranked 90th percentile or lower on the balance metric. LA, at the 98th percentile for the balance metric, is head-and-shoulders above the rest in the balanced approach in which they earned their points.

The above conclusions only deal with the observations made to date. Where would the Galaxy's performance fall against a long term average when future seasons are added?

We can get a good indication of this if the data set for home vs. away goals is normally distributed. It turns out that it is not, but a simple mathematical transformation of the original data does produce such a normal data set. Taking the square root of (Away Goals)/(Home Goals) produces a distribution with the following properties.




LA's score on the transformed metric is 1.017. Generating a Z-Score and converting it to a percentile shows that only 5% of the teams would have a point distribution more skewed towards away points than LA did this year. No one else even comes close to matching their balance (a score of 1.0 on this metric). Any that do are often in the lower half of the table, and the closest team in the upper half of a table had a score of 0.96 (biased towards home points and twice as far away from the balanced 1.0 score as LA). The only other teams to have a score greater than 1.0 - and thus biased more towards away points - on this metric were DC United (2010, last place) and Chicago (5th in 2005).

So LA took the more difficult road to their Supporter's Shield. Perhaps some would knock them for not defending the Home Depot Center more consistently, which certainly penalized them in the race to best San Jose's point total record. However, I feel LA deserves special commendation for their balanced approach (especially considering RSL's 2010 point total was biased nearly 2:1 in favor of home points).

Now if those pesky playoffs didn't penalize successful teams, LA might have pulled off the rare Supporters' Shield/MLS Cup double. More on that later...

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Location:NE 38th Pl,Kirkland,United States

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review: Pay as You Play



"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan


Statistical analysis such as this blog not withstanding, one of the beautiful aspects of soccer is the artistry of the game. What many non-fans see as 11 guys simply kicking the ball back and forth waiting for the one lucky strike that leads to a goal, soccer fans see as a beautiful ebb and flow of strategy leading up to a well deserved goal. Sometimes the desire for beauty on the part of some fans can lead to disdain for those of us who would like to apply some numerical analysis to the game we love.

One area where all fans can agree such analysis would be of huge benefit is in the cloaked nature of club finances and player wages/transfer fees. With the rise of global clubs, global ownership, and the money that comes with both there is a growing need to understand how they influence the competitiveness of our favorite clubs. The league that shows the greatest need for such analysis is the English Premier League. No league best represents the global success of soccer over the last 20 years, and the worst financial excesses.

Luckily, a timely book entitled Pay as you Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era by Paul Tomkins, Graeme Riley, and Gary Fulcher provides all the data we could ever want on transfer fees paid and earned by every club in the history of the English Premier League. Beyond compiling a (largely) complete history of transfer fees, it also provides insight into the authors' own method for translating past fees into current, soccer-inflated fees, as well as various measures for compiling each team's individual transfer payments into squad and starting XI costs. The culmination, a 300-page definitive tome on the finances of England's top flight of soccer, provides invaluable insight into the economics and associated results of Premier League soccer. After reading this book, it is quite clear that there are numerous impacts felt on the pitch from the financial decisions by the clubs' leadership (although the book deliberately leaves some of those conclusions up for personal debate). We can have our own opinions about what this book means for English soccer, but their is no debating the facts presented by the authors. Quite simply, it is a must read for anyone concerned about the health of the sport in its home country, a reader's favorite club, or the league itself.

Why Transfer Fees Matter

One might question why transfer fees matter in examining the state of English soccer. After all, studies like those in Soccernomics contend there is little correlation between transfer fees paid and the team's success, and rather a much better correlation between a team's annual player payroll and league placement. First, after reading both Soccernomics and Pay as You Play, I would contend that the Soccernomics method for analyzing the impact of transfer fees on team performance is incorrect (see my explanation several paragraphs below), while the Pay as You Play method of analyzing transfers lends itself to a more correct analysis. Thus, I would reject the conclusions of Soccernomics.

More importantly, the authors routinely point out the small roll that home grown players, those who came up through the squad's reserve team and academy systems, play in English Premier League sides. Most squads were averaging in the low single digits (2-3), with the number dropping precipitously below 1 by late in the second decade of the League. Thus, the bulk of a team, and especially the starting XI, will be made up of several years worth of transfers and their impact will disproportionately affect the team's fortunes in league finish position and continental competitions. Getting the best bang for one's Pound in the transfer market is critical to realizing the team's goals.

New Variables to Help Understand Club Finances

Perhaps the most critical contribution of the book is its ability to compile the vast majority of transfers completed in the history of the 18 year league, and then translate them into a current price. This is done by creating the Transfer Price Index (TPI) for each season, which allowed the authors to create the Current Transfer Purchase Price (CTPP) database which translates every transfer into a 2010 soccer price. I say "soccer price" because the authors correctly surmise that inflation in soccer transfer prices far outpaced the traditional inflation rates which are averaged over a generic basket of goods. Studying the specific marketplace requires a specific inflation factor, and Tomkins, Riley, and Fulcher provide a huge service in creating this metric, making comparisons over the years and between squads much easier.

Note that the costs are all listed in British Pounds - this is English soccer after all!

Two other metrics that the authors created out of the inflated transfer fees were the total squad cost (Sq£) and the average starting XI cost (£XI). The prior can be thought of as how much the entire squad, even less productive transfers who have been relegated to a reserve squad, cost to assemble. The latter can be thought of as how expensive the average starting team cost the club, while dividing the £XI by the Sq£ gives a good idea of the team's utilization of the transfers for which they have paid. The benefit of using the Pay as You Play approach to transfers is that it helps you understand the long term effects of managers' and club's transfer policies on the squad's costs and helps provide better analysis of correlation to team performance. This is superior to previous approaches that have attempted to use only the previous year's transfer fees in judging current team performance, ignoring the realities that many transfers may see limited playing time in their first year on a squad or may take longer than a year to fully integrate into the starting XI and thus have a limited first year impact.

One cannot understate the amount of work undertaken to compile such a data set and post-process it into the TPI, CTTP, £XI and Sq£ metrics. The authors have done EPL fans and statisticians a great service, with all kinds of subsequent analysis now possible. Some possible questions that can now be addressed include:
- What has the spread in financial expenditures on transfers looked like thoughout the years?
- What has been the impact of increased transfer fee expenditures on likelihood of finish position in the EPL table?
- Which managers were the best over- and under-achievers given their expenditures?

Luckily, the authors attempt to answer these questions and many more in the analysis that takes up the bulk of their book.

Four Ways to Analyze Transfer Fees

The book uses the CTTP database and it's associated metrics to look at transfer fees from four different angles, the highlights of each I have summarized below.

Part 1 - The Price of Success:

This section of the book provides a good overview of general trends in EPL transfers. If one is primarily interested in the long term league and manager trends, they need only read these nine chapters chock full of outstanding analysis to get such an understanding A few of the lessons learned include:

- Arsene Wenger's reputation for punching above the belt doesn't really apply to his championship decorated first decade, but does apply to the silverware bare years since.
- No matter who was in charge of Newcastle, they always set new standards for punching below the belt
- Sam Allardyce is very deserving of the title of "Best Manager for Punching Above the Belt"

Most fascinating to me was Chapter 4, where it appears the authors utilized Graeme Riley's background in the financial word to apply financial market metrics for measuring market concentration and oligopoly to the EPL. The findings confirm what we've long suspected - the long term trend is towards concentration of silverware to the top spenders and increase of the disparity within the league. What looked like a oligopoly of the Top 4 in the early to mid 2000's (the height of EPL dominance in the Champions League) has now grown into a gulf between the Top 8 and the Bottom 12 (with 75% of the £XI concentrated in the Top 8).

Part 2 - The Clubs:

Another unique aspect of Pay as You Play is it's use of a myriad of authors to provide unique insight into each club's expenditures and performance. That's right - Tomkins, Riley, and Fulcher reached out to over 40 journalists, bloggers, and season ticket holders to get their take on the CTTP numbers for each squad. Want to know how a Portsmouth supporter feels about their team's recent success and subsequent financial crash? It's in the book. Want to know how someone can defend Chelsea's championships that were largely bought? It's in the book. The whole section is a fascinating read of informed opinions, and the associated team CTTP data to go with them.

Part 3 - Eighteen Seasons - 1992-2010:

Combined with Part 2, this part of the book provides an excellent overview of the growth of the Premier League, and is a must read for the newer fan like myself. It not only provides a different set of summary statistics than the other parts (year-over-year growth or decline in CTTP, maximum and average values for £XI and Sq£), but it provides commentary as to why (difference in squad/starting XI costs due to promoted/relegated teams, an Abromovich spending binge, Alex Ferguson reacting to another Arsenal championship, etc.). Whether you're a newer fan of the EPL or have been there since its inception, it's a must read to provide historical context to the longer trends in transfer fees.

Part 4 - The Main Managers:

One of the consistent themes the book attempts to address is which managers made the most of their expenditures, and which made the least. In this part of the book, the authors focus on key managers throughout the history of the Premier League and gauge how they've done in the transfer market. They not only look at their purchases, but also look at their sales and see who came out ahead and who was far under water. The lesson: don't get into the transfer market if you want to flip players for a profit. Of the 11 managers studied, only 1 made a profit, 1 came close to breaking even, and the other 9 took huge losses. I won't spoil any of the conclusions in this section, and will leave it up to the reader to get a copy of the book to have some of their suspicious confirmed and many of them challenged.

Conclusions

I have spent a lot of virtual ink on reviewing this book because I think it is that important to the study of the finances of the English Premier League. Over the next decade I expect its data to be the foundation for studying the effectiveness of UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules' in leveling the playing field and stoping the financial absurdity of the last half decade. Like any good authors should, these three have set themselves up beautifully for a second edition of this book.

The book is also important for another reason: it provides us with a rich, needed data set that is ripe for a multitude of further statistical study. While the authors have done an awesome job of summarizing the results of their findings and analysis, I have been able to come up with nine additional analyses that could be performed on the CTTP data set, and I am sure others could come up with many more. That's not a knock against the authors, it's a complement. The CTTP database is the gift that should keep on giving. The biggest challenge in sports statistics, especially when it comes to soccer, is generating a good data set to analyze. It's the most resource intensive part of any statistical analysis project, and can generate a "garbage in/garbage out" situation if one is not careful. The authors of Pay as You Play have helped eliminate that big first hurdle, and they should be commended for it.

Finally, while the authors stayed away from drawing too many conclusions in the book (they must really like that Moynihan quote and want you to form your own opinions), I will not do the same. Quite simply, the data in Pay as You Play confirms that ludicrous financial behavior on the part of owners and managers is destroying the overall competitiveness Premier League. No Chelsea supporter can look anyone in the eye and seriously argue that Abramovich didn't buy those Championships. I can't wait to see how Chelsea's fans react when UEFA rules prevent Abramovich from simply buying more championships when his aging team starts falling apart. Hicks, Gillett, and the Glazers have hogtied their clubs for years due to their financial failures. And the worst part is that this bad behavior has forced many of the less wealthy clubs to follow suit and charge off the cliff of financial oblivion. I chafe under our domestic league's salary capped franchise arrangement, but what the EPL has experienced in the last decade is at the opposite end of the financial lunacy spectrum.

I love my Gunners, partly for Wenger's refusal to indulge the lunacy of the last half decade, and I love the EPL. I just hope UEFA's new rules help correct a situation where literally only the biggest spending clubs (note: not necessarily the richest) have a shot at reasonable success.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

A Few Thoughts On MLS Cup 2010

Here are a few thoughts from last night's MLS Cup match, which I watched from a hotel room in Hawaii (incidentally, that was about the only thing that made the second half tolerable).

1. Why did FC Dallas wait until the last five minutes of the second overtime to play like a team possessed? I know they had to change their play after Colorado's go ahead goal and certainly benefited from Colorado being down one man, but that five minute stretch at the end of the game was the most dangerous Dallas had looked since the Colorado scored the equalizer earlier in the match.

2. I don't like busting on other team's fans, but Toronto FC's fans really did make a poor showing last night. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the stadium at least 50% empty when the first overtime began. There is NO WAY real soccer fans leave their league's championship match when it goes to extra time. We Seattlites didn't when all 46,000 attendees stuck around for RSL's clinching PK in 2009. I was there, and the image below adequately captures the crowd's dedication (I was just outside the upper left corner of the picture). I expect the same of any host city, especially when attendance is half that of 2009.




Don Garber and MLS need to fix this going forward by letting the higher seed host the MLS Cup. It should be a reward for the supporters whose team has had the better record over the season, a financial reward for the team's ownership in the gate and concession receipts it would generate, and it would certainly generate better attendance than the neutral site we saw last night. The NFL is the only major pro sports league who doesn't host their championship at the home of one of the two participants (although to be fair, those other leagues also run best-of-7 championships). MLS Cup is not the Super Bowl, and it's not the FA Cup. Let's recognize reality, and connect it to the higher seed of the two participants.

3. Perhaps the "fans" at BMO Park were only serving as a visual representation of the national "who cares" attitude that was taken towards MLS Cup 2010. Turns out this year's championship was the lowest rated MLS Cup since the beginning of such recorded data in 1999.. Commissioner Garber and MLS have their work cut out for them.

4. The expansion of next year's playoffs to 10 teams will make this situation worse. Don Garber seems completely unwilling to listen to MLS's fans, and keeps making the mistake of assuming that mythical soon-to-be-MLS-fans want more than half the league to break into a playoff. Even assuming we get the New York Cosmos as our league's 20th team, we will still be braking half the league to the playoffs. I will statistically show in the next couple of weeks that in 2011:

- It will be easier for a team to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs than 2010, and
- The bottom seeds will have an easier time making it to the MLS Cup than the higher seeded teams due to those higher seeded teams likely playing more games in 2011 with CONCACAF Champions League responsibilities.

MLS needs to junk the idea that we need more playoff teams to attract fans. The biggest liability MLS has right now is that it is considered a bit of a joke compared to other soccer leagues. We don't play top-of-the-table format. We don't follow the international schedule. And we allow a team with a losing record to have a shot at,and win, the league championship. Let's not double down on a league policy that inhibits the sport's and league's growth.

Overall, I think the 2010 MLS Cup was a big let down compared to 2009. Sure, I am biased as the 2009 Cup was hosted in my hometown and I was in attendance. I felt that the game was okay, but the external factors and huge decline in viewership should be of primary concern to Don Garber and MLS. I hope they continue to fix this situation as MLS is critical to the sport's growth in our country.

Now, it is time for me to get back to my vacation. As my hosts on the islands would say, Aloha!

- FYI, this was posted using (the massively improved) BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Niulani Rd,Kapaa,United States

Friday, November 12, 2010

Honeymooning


I will be taking the next 12 days off to enjoy a deferred honeymoon with my wife. We didn't want to leave Seattle right after the wedding - July and August are the best months of the year up here. But now that it's rainy and cold, we're more than happy to decamp to the Hawaiian Islands on a delayed honeymoon.

I'll be back with some end of season MLS analysis (a few of the statistics have already been crunched), as well as getting back into the EPL once MLS is wrapped up until next spring.

Until then, aloha!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reflections on Year Two

video
What 36,000 Sounders fans sound like

This will be one of those posts where I deviate from the statistics and talk about the more human element of my soccer experience.

Being a US soccer fan in a city with an MLS team, my season runs from March through November. With the elimination of my Sounders last weekend, I felt it was appropriate to reflect on my top experiences of my second year of soccer fandom. In reverse order, here are my Top 5 moments of the last year.

5. Arsenal's opening weekend win over Liverpool

This event was significant on its own, but is also represents the fun I get to have every so often with the friend who got me to fall in love with the game and the EPL as my "foreign league". Liverpool, his favorite club, had a rough off season, but that didn't matter. We'd marked this date - the opening of the 2010-2011 season - when the schedule was released early in the summer and realized our teams met that weekend. It was the perfect beginning to another EPL season and Saturday's at the George and Dragon.

When Arsenal went down 0-1 at the opening second half, I thought "Great, another self destruction at the half way point!" For the next 45 minutes I was sure that Arsenal was going down, and I would have to face my friend as a loser for the first time in three matches against Liverpool. Then, the game turned on a Reina's bad play on a Chamakh's header. Half of the George and Dragon erupted, the other half despondent. Never had a tie been so nice - sadly, at the expense of my friend. All he could do was shake his head and hope that maybe the fourth time would be the charm.

4. Sounders FC 0-4 loss to the LA Galaxy

No matter what sport I follow, I believe in using market forces to provide feedback to the ownership when the team isn't worth the price of a ticket. After having a great inaugural season in 2009, the Sounders struggled at the start of the 2010 season. The team chemistry was way off, and it was clear the team wasn't going to make the playoffs if performance didn't improve. The nadir of this stretch of the season was a 0-4 loss to the Galaxy.

Being a divorced dad of two young girls, I get very few weekends where I can go to soccer matches. Given that reality, I probably have an unrealistic expectation of value for my ticket to a match. That match was truly awful. It was only 0-1 at the half, but soon after halftime the Galaxy scored in the 52nd and the 56th minute. Landon Donovan had set up all three of those goals, and he decided he wanted in on the action by scoring the fourth. By the 70th minute, we walked out of the stadium fed up with the lack of effort on the part of our team.

What happened next was amazing. The team put it's money where it's mouth was, and immediately issued credit worth one game ticket to each season ticket holder. That put everyone on notice that the management wouldn't put up with failure. Soon the troublemaker, Freddie Ljungberg, was shipped off to a team we were competing against for a playoff spot and the season turned around.

3. Statistically Blogging the World Cup

This year's World Cup was the first in which I was a dedicated fan, and I ended up preparing well for it. I kicked off the Spring (and this blog) with the completion of Soccernomics. A May business trip to The Netherlands prompted me to read Brilliant Orange - a fortuitous event given the Dutch showing in the World Cup. And then, just before the start of the Cup, a wonderful study that created a system for measuring player's contribution to team performance was released and an associated World Cup database was quickly created by the authors.

This series of events provided all the inspiration I needed to blog my way through the World Cup. I built an entire spreadsheet around the Soccernomics model for predicting the outcome to international matches, and was able to show when it was most accurate. I ended up not being so good when using the Footballer Rating system. Along the way I met many people on Twitter via my posts, and had a blast live blogging the final matches. There was only one moment from the World Cup that surpassed my blogging experience, and it is my number one moment of the year.

2. Sounders FC win the US Open Cup

Very few clubs get to play for a trophy on their home pitch. It's a 50/50 chance in the US Open Cup as one of the teams in the final will host the match at their home stadium. Last year, the Sounders had to go on the road for the final and came away with the improbable win. In their second year, the team won the bid to host the final and attempt to become the first MLS team to win the Cup two years in a row.

As I mentioned in moment four, the season did not start so well for the Sounders. After a midseason trade, a few overseas acquisitions, and some much better play the Sounders were back in the playoff hunt by early October. On October 2nd I attended their 3-2 win over Toronto FC, and then returned to the stadium on the 5th to watch them defend the cup.

The Boys From Seattle went down 0-1, but came back strong to win 2-1. In the process of repeating as champions, the Sounders made the Cup our own competition. We've embraced it like no other team before us. We shattered the record for attendance at a final, and none other than the definitive US Open Cup website has recognized the Sounders as the major force behind reinvigorating the competition.

After a tumultuous season of doubt, it was absolutely wonderful to stand tall with 30,000 supporters and reward our boys with our voices for their awesome work. Next year we look to be the first team to threepeat since Greek American Atlas Astoria won the 1967, 1968, and 1969 competitions. I have no doubt they can do it.


1. Landon Donovan's late goal against Algeria

Every American soccer fan knows where they were when they saw, or heard about, Landon Donovan's epic late goal. I won't try to re-create the moment on the pitch in South Africa, but I will relay on my experience.

I chose to go into work late, pushing the limits of our core hours policy. I had a feeling the match would be special, and I refused to let work get in the way. The same Liverpool friend who got me into soccer and shares weekends at the George and Dragon with me was with me that morning. We set up shop at an outdoor table at the Market Arms, consuming several Bailey's and Coffee throughout the morning. The match inevitable continued to build in tension, with all of us standing and praying for a breakthrough. We all know what happened next, but the reaction is one I will never forget.

The picture below was taken at the Market Arms the moment the goal was scored, and will be a moment I will never forget. I've never seen so many grown people yell, hug, high five, and cry as I did that day. It's was a perfect way to celebrate my first World Cup, and earned my top memory of the year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

More Power and Sample Size Discussion

Check out this post over at Climbing the Ladder, and my comment at the bottom of the post, to see more discussion on power, sample size, and alterantive methods for determining relationships between predictors and outcomes.

Just in case the comment gets removed, here it is:

Sadly, even the "fewer games" category is not statistically significant
when compared to the 50/50 chance most teams have of advancing.

Using this site (http://www.stat.ubc.ca/~rollin/stats/ssize/b1.html) and entering the following values:

p0 = 0.5

p1 = 0.672

1 sided Test

and default alpha and power levels

Yields a sample size of 51. This means this proportion of win percentage would have to be viewed over 51 matches to determine that fewer games was a good predictor vs. a coin flip.What may be more interesting is plotting win percentage vs. the actual number of fewer games. One could then run a Pearson correlation test to determine if correlation did exist, and if it did then run a linear regression to determine the strength. This could even be run for various metrics (win percentage, goal differential, etc.).

Sorry to be such a stickler, but I come from a viewpoint that most sports statistics actually aren't statistically significant. And it's a good thing they aren't - it's the random, 50/50 nature of any one sporting event that makes them interesting.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Most "Streak" Statistics are Meaningless

The guys over at Sounder at Heart have done a good job of pointing out why most of the talk of the Sounders being up a creek in the second leg is bunk. Here's one gem regarding the "only 2 teams have won the two leg playoff after dropping the first leg at home" statistic:

Letting that number stand alone is just plain dumb, though. For one, it ignores the total sample size: Only six teams (not including the Sounders) have ever even lost the first leg at home. Looking just at those numbers, we're talking about a whopping one-third of teams coming from behind to win, hardly an insurmountable task.
Looking a little deeper, we see three of those home-leg losers lost by more than one goal. Of the three that lost by one goal, two of them have come back to win. So two-thirds of teams that lost by one goal at home, managed to advance anyway.
Luckily, statistics can tell us just how many games must be played to tell us whether such a win percentage is statistically meaningful. There are numerous resources for performing "power and sample" size calculations. I have used this one.

In analyzing the long term average of a playoff series, we can assume that each team has a 50% chance of winning (ignoring their seed as indication of prior performance). This would be the "known value". Let's assume a specific outcome of the first match - a loss at home - and then a specific outcome of the second match - overall loss in the two leg series for that team that lost at home in the first match. If we observed that the long term trend was that teams who lost that first match only won the two-leg series one-third of the time (like they have to date), how many series would that need to occur over to determine such a team has less than a 50% change of winning?

Using the power-and-sample size method, it turns out it's a lot - 54 two-leg series. The numbers don't get much better if the Sounders lose on aggregate goals. Such an occurrence would mean that only 2 of the 7 teams who fell behind after the first leg at home would have gone on to win the series. Given this percentage, it would still require 32 series where the host team in the first match lost, and no more than 9 of those 32 series could see that team go on to win the series. Ten or more series wins for the team that lost the first leg, and such a percentage is statistically no different than the team having an even shot at advancing.

And that's what the Sounders are facing in LA - an even shot at winning the series. Game on, boys!