Los Nerdes Verdes: Playoff Bound?

What are the Odds?

A tie that feels like a loss. That sentiment would have felt relatively foreign last year in which an expansion Austin FC squad scrapped for every point against more established franchises. Nonetheless, that perspective permeated both the fanbase and team after the draw against San Jose. At the same time, before Saturday, the Verde & Black hadn’t taken a single point from an away game since June of last year. The conventional wisdom says that defending your home turf and stealing draws on the road is enough to make the playoffs. How true is that?

We took a look at the points per game on the road and at home for every team across the 2017-2021 seasons. As the scatter plot shows, there isn’t just one formula on how to make the playoffs. In fact, there are more combinations than there are people moving to Austin every day. We’ve highlighted some clusters that we found interesting. What jumps out to you? 

At a high level, here are some of the key figures:

Average pts/game for a playoff team:
Home – 2.0
Away – 1.18

The graphic also helps visualize what is probably the most important statistic: what is the combined average you have to hit for home and away pts/game to make the playoffs? Over the last five seasons, regardless of how they got there, teams that posted a home and away average of 1.39 pts/game reached the playoffs ~95% of the time. 

Now for the flipside; at what point would we be in real trouble? Only one team has ever made the playoffs with a combined pts/game under 1.29. That 2020 Inter Miami squad put up a massively mediocre season but benefited significantly from the expanded playoff format that was later scrapped.

Disclaimer: there is a full 85% of the season remaining, so this is by no means a settled fact. However, Austin’s current pace would put the team at 2.33 pts/game at home and 0.5 away. That average would almost certainly be enough to make the playoffs in the franchise’s second year. 

The Matchup

This Minnesota Utd team is proof that points per game doesn’t tell the whole story. They come into their matchup against Austin tied on points, but with just +1 goal and +.01 xG differentials — eking out their two wins of the season. Meanwhile, Austin’s sitting on +7 goal and +2.1 xG differentials.

MLSSoccer.com slots Minnesota just ahead of Austin on the power rankings, representative of the doubt that’s starting to creep in about whether the Verde can recapture some of the magic shown against Cinci and Miami. 

Don’t expect this matchup to look like the San Jose game in which the Earthquakes kept Austin to just 37% possession — the lowest in franchise history. Minnesota Utd are much more comfortable ceding control to their opponent, confident in the performance of their young goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. On the offensive end, two of the Loon’s goals this season have come off of set pieces or the scrum that followed. Add on one PK and one deep cross into the box, and 80% of their goals have come from situations in which Austin have struggled to defend this season. Discipline and control of the box from Stuver and the CB pairing is going to be key for the Verde & Black to stay on the front foot.

How do you see this one playing out?