How Do We Stack Up?
The inaugural Leagues Cup is largely an unknown entity. Each club will view the tournament with varying levels of importance — weighing a ton of factors including their outlook on the rest of the season. It’s no different for Austin, and the community is split on the most prudent strategy. Go for it and make a name for ourselves with the international spotlight? Or rest key players ahead of a vital stretch of league games?
Comparing team strength across leagues is difficult, but 538 keeps a Global Club Soccer Ranking based on an updated version of their SPI model. One thing to keep in mind about these rankings is that they’re very elastic, so current results don’t weigh as heavily. They also take into account non-result factors like how much a team over or underperformed the model as well as external indicators like squad market value. A good example of how this looks different than we might expect is St. Louis SC. They have MLS’ 2nd-lowest ranking from 538 despite currently leading the Western Conference.
There are mixed feelings about the wisdom of those choices, but for the purposes of getting a quick layout of the field, we won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Here are some notable group stats:
“Best Overall” Group (Avg Ranking: 239)
Central 3 – Chivas Guadalajara (180), FC Cincinnati (209), Sporting Kansas City (328)
“Worst Overall” Group (Avg Ranking: 377)
South 1 – Austin FC (381), Mazatlan FC (397), FC Juarez (354)
“Most Competitive” Group (Lowest Variance)
Also South 1 – Austin FC (381), Mazatlan FC (397), FC Juarez (354)
“Most Lopsided” Group (Highest Variance)
Central 1 – Club America (97), Columbus Crew (245), St. Louis SC (413)
During last season’s Clausura, Mazatlan won just two of their seventeen games, finishing dead last with by far the league’s worst GD (-22). Their offense was poor (6th-worst), but that pales in comparison to their defense which gave up 41 goals over the course of the season – about 15 goals worse than the league average.
Finishing 2nd in the West last year was a huge boon for this tournament. Juarez, Austin’s second opponent, didn’t fare much better than Mazatlan. They finished 3rd-to-last with a -8 GD and the league’s 3rd-worst xGD (-7.7 xGD). There’s a good argument to be made that the group is there for the taking. If there’s one lesson to take from the early CCL exit to Violette (who don’t make 538’s list of 641 teams) is that you must take these kinds of games seriously if you want results. Outside of a potential cup win, there’s a possibility Austin could host Messi and the gang if things go right. That would require both teams to win the group and their first knockout round game. We know Miami’s going to take this seriously, how about we do too. Listos!