Numbers Suggest Chicago Fire Must Improve Goal Differential in 2013

Rainier Ehrhardt

Luck of the Chicago Fire? The Fire outperformed their goal differential in 2012.

In 2012, the Chicago Fire accumulated points per game at a level not seen since the team's Golden Era of 1998-2003. Head coach Frank Klopas had his team sitting on 53 points with 5 games remaining in the season after the September 22nd 2-1 defeat of the Columbus Crew.

Now the Fire would have to have won their last 5 games in order to have the best season in the team's history. The team's point total in 2012 would have been 68, good enough for 2.00 PPG. The team's best season in club history is 2001 where the PPG total was 1.96. Winning 5 games in a row after already winning 7 of the last 8 games was probably not in the cards but the fact that the 2012 squad even had the chance was remarkable.

You know this didn't happen. Unfortunately Chicago wilted down the stretch and only grabbed 5 of those 15 possible points. Here's how the Fire seasons rank as we enter the 2013 season.

Year Games PTS PPG
2001 27 53 1.96
2000 32 57 1.78
2003 30 53 1.77
1998 32 56 1.75
2012 34 57 1.68
2008 30 46 1.53
2005 32 49 1.53
1999 32 48 1.50
2009 30 45 1.50
2006 32 47 1.47
2007 30 40 1.33
2002 28 37 1.32
2011 34 43 1.26
2010 30 36 1.20
2004 30 33 1.10

Hey, the 2012 season is still a top 5 season. Good enough for a top third finish in the club's history. That's certainly nothing to complain about.

The optimist in me wants to see the Fire build on last season. The pessimist begins to worry when the season totals and numbers are extended. Here's the key for the chart below: PTS=points, PPG=points per game, GF=goals for, GA=goals against, GD=goal differential, GFPG=goals for per game, GAPG=goals against per game, GDPG=goal differential per game.

Year PTS PPG GF GA GD GFPG GAPG GDPG
2001 53 1.96 50 30 20 1.85 1.11 0.74
2000 57 1.78 67 51 16 2.09 1.59 0.50
2003 53 1.77 53 43 10 1.77 1.43 0.33
1998 56 1.75 64 46 18 2.00 1.44 0.56
2012 57 1.68 46 41 5 1.35 1.21 0.15
2008 46 1.53 44 33 11 1.47 1.10 0.37
2005 49 1.53 49 50 -1 1.53 1.56 -0.03
1999 48 1.50 54 41 16 1.69 1.28 0.50
2009 45 1.50 39 34 5 1.30 1.13 0.17
2006 47 1.47 43 41 2 1.34 1.28 0.06
2007 40 1.33 31 36 -5 1.03 1.20 -0.17
2002 37 1.32 43 38 5 1.54 1.36 0.18
2011 43 1.26 46 45 1 1.35 1.32 0.03
2010 36 1.20 37 38 -1 1.23 1.27 -0.03
2004 33 1.10 36 44 -8 1.20 1.47 -0.27

I have bolded PPG and GDPG because that's the showcase argument here. The dominant teams from 2001, 2000, 2003, and 1998 truly dominated their opponents. Squads from 1999 and 2008 squads weren't exactly slouches in their own right. In contrast, the 2012 team just scrapped by. Their 0.15 GDPG and 1.68 PPG suggests the Fire significantly out-resulted their performance. This is perfectly symbolized by the aforementioned 7 wins in 8 games stretch. Chicago won each of those 7 games by one goal.

Fifteen seasons across 15 very different MLS years is an odd sample size. To get a better idea of how things are leaguewide recently, I expanded the results to look at every MLS team. Since we are expanding the number of teams and I'm in the camp of people that think MLS competition has dramatically changed in just the past couple of years, I shrank the years to look at to 2008-2012. This time it's sorted by GDPG

Year Team PTS PPG GF GA GD GFPG GAPG GDPG
2012 San Jose Earthquakes 66 1.94 72 43 29 2.12 1.26 0.85
2010 Real Salt Lake 56 1.87 45 20 25 1.50 0.67 0.83
2010 LA Galaxy 59 1.97 44 26 18 1.47 0.87 0.60
2011 LA Galaxy 67 1.97 48 28 20 1.41 0.82 0.59
2011 Seattle Sounders 63 1.85 56 37 19 1.65 1.09 0.56
2012 Seattle Sounders 56 1.65 51 33 18 1.50 0.97 0.53
2008 Columbus Crew 57 1.90 50 36 14 1.67 1.20 0.47
2010 FC Dallas 50 1.67 42 28 14 1.40 0.93 0.47
2012 Sporting Kansas City 63 1.85 42 27 15 1.24 0.79 0.44
2008 Houston Dynamo 51 1.70 45 32 13 1.50 1.07 0.43
2010 Colorado Rapids 46 1.53 44 32 12 1.47 1.07 0.40
2008 Chicago Fire 46 1.53 44 33 11 1.47 1.10 0.37
2012 LA Galaxy 54 1.59 59 47 12 1.74 1.38 0.35
2009 Columbus Crew 49 1.63 41 31 10 1.37 1.03 0.33
2009 Houston Dynamo 48 1.60 39 29 10 1.30 0.97 0.33
2012 New York Red Bulls 57 1.68 57 46 11 1.68 1.35 0.32
2012 Real Salt Lake 57 1.68 46 35 11 1.35 1.03 0.32
2010 New York Red Bulls 51 1.70 38 29 9 1.27 0.97 0.30
2009 Seattle Sounders 47 1.57 38 29 9 1.27 0.97 0.30
2012 D.C. United 58 1.71 53 43 10 1.56 1.26 0.29
2011 Sporting Kansas City 51 1.50 50 40 10 1.47 1.18 0.29
2009 Real Salt Lake 40 1.33 43 35 8 1.43 1.17 0.27
2011 Real Salt Lake 53 1.56 44 36 8 1.29 1.06 0.24
2011 Philadelphia Union 48 1.41 44 36 8 1.29 1.06 0.24
2012 Houston Dynamo 53 1.56 48 41 7 1.41 1.21 0.21
2010 Columbus Crew 50 1.67 40 34 6 1.33 1.13 0.20
2011 New York Red Bulls 46 1.35 50 44 6 1.47 1.29 0.18
2009 LA Galaxy 48 1.60 36 31 5 1.20 1.03 0.17
2009 Chicago Fire 45 1.50 39 34 5 1.30 1.13 0.17
2012 Chicago Fire 57 1.68 46 41 5 1.35 1.21 0.15
2010 Seattle Sounders 48 1.60 39 35 4 1.30 1.17 0.13
2009 Colorado Rapids 40 1.33 42 38 4 1.40 1.27 0.13
2008 FC Dallas 36 1.20 45 41 4 1.50 1.37 0.13
2011 Houston Dynamo 49 1.44 45 41 4 1.32 1.21 0.12
2009 Chivas USA 45 1.50 34 31 3 1.13 1.03 0.10
2009 FC Dallas 39 1.30 50 47 3 1.67 1.57 0.10
2011 FC Dallas 52 1.53 42 39 3 1.24 1.15 0.09
2011 Colorado Rapids 49 1.44 44 41 3 1.29 1.21 0.09
2010 San Jose Earthquakes 46 1.53 34 33 1 1.13 1.10 0.03
2008 Real Salt Lake 40 1.33 40 39 1 1.33 1.30 0.03
2010 Sporting Kansas City 39 1.30 36 35 1 1.20 1.17 0.03
2011 Chicago Fire 43 1.26 46 45 1 1.35 1.32 0.03
2012 Columbus Crew 52 1.53 44 44 0 1.29 1.29 0.00
2008 Chivas USA 43 1.43 40 41 -1 1.33 1.37 -0.03
2011 Columbus Crew 47 1.38 43 44 -1 1.26 1.29 -0.03
2009 D.C. United 40 1.33 43 44 -1 1.43 1.47 -0.03
2008 Colorado Rapids 38 1.27 44 45 -1 1.47 1.50 -0.03
2010 Chicago Fire 36 1.20 37 38 -1 1.23 1.27 -0.03
2011 Chivas USA 36 1.06 41 43 -2 1.21 1.26 -0.06
2008 Sporting Kansas City 42 1.40 37 39 -2 1.23 1.30 -0.07
2011 D.C. United 39 1.15 49 52 -3 1.44 1.53 -0.09
2008 New England Revolution 43 1.43 40 43 -3 1.33 1.43 -0.10
2009 New England Revolution 42 1.40 33 37 -4 1.10 1.23 -0.13
2012 FC Dallas 39 1.15 42 47 -5 1.24 1.38 -0.15
2011 San Jose Earthquakes 38 1.12 40 45 -5 1.18 1.32 -0.15
2012 New England Revolution 35 1.03 39 44 -5 1.15 1.29 -0.15
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps 43 1.26 35 41 -6 1.03 1.21 -0.18
2012 Montreal Impact 42 1.24 45 51 -6 1.32 1.50 -0.18
2012 Colorado Rapids 37 1.09 44 50 -6 1.29 1.47 -0.18
2008 New York Red Bulls 39 1.30 42 48 -6 1.40 1.60 -0.20
2008 San Jose Earthquakes 33 1.10 32 38 -6 1.07 1.27 -0.20
2008 LA Galaxy 33 1.10 55 62 -7 1.83 2.07 -0.23
2011 Portland Timbers 42 1.24 40 48 -8 1.18 1.41 -0.24
2012 Philadelphia Union 36 1.06 37 45 -8 1.09 1.32 -0.24
2008 D.C. United 37 1.23 43 51 -8 1.43 1.70 -0.27
2010 Toronto FC 35 1.17 33 41 -8 1.10 1.37 -0.27
2009 Toronto FC 39 1.30 37 46 -9 1.23 1.53 -0.30
2008 Toronto FC 35 1.17 34 43 -9 1.13 1.43 -0.30
2010 Houston Dynamo 33 1.10 40 49 -9 1.33 1.63 -0.30
2009 Sporting Kansas City 33 1.10 33 42 -9 1.10 1.40 -0.30
2010 Philadelphia Union 31 1.03 35 49 -14 1.17 1.63 -0.47
2009 San Jose Earthquakes 30 1.00 36 50 -14 1.20 1.67 -0.47
2010 Chivas USA 28 0.93 31 45 -14 1.03 1.50 -0.47
2011 New England Revolution 28 0.82 38 58 -20 1.12 1.71 -0.59
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps 28 0.82 35 55 -20 1.03 1.62 -0.59
2010 New England Revolution 32 1.07 32 50 -18 1.07 1.67 -0.60
2012 Portland Timbers 34 1.00 34 56 -22 1.00 1.65 -0.65
2009 New York Red Bulls 21 0.70 27 47 -20 0.90 1.57 -0.67
2011 Toronto FC 33 0.97 36 59 -23 1.06 1.74 -0.68
2012 Toronto FC 23 0.68 36 62 -26 1.06 1.82 -0.76
2010 D.C. United 22 0.73 21 47 -26 0.70 1.57 -0.87
2012 Chivas USA 30 0.88 24 58 -34 0.71 1.71 -1.00

It would appear that Lady Luck sat on the bench next to assistant coaches Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich all season long. The 2012 Chicago Fire have more PPG than any team below them in GDPG. No team has a higher PPG than last year's Fire until you get up to 2012 D.C. United. Head coach Ben Olsen's squad has almost twice the GDPG than Klopas' team did.

What Does Any of This Mean?

There are a couple of ways to look at these results. First there is the traditional sports view that this makes the 2012 Chicago Fire a great team. Since most of the players from last year's team have returned, we can look forward to a group of guys that really know how to maximize their performance. I don't buy this argument based on similar principles from formulas like the Pythagorean Expectation primarily used in baseball.

The Pythagorean Expectation applied to soccer suggests the Fire have some luck to be evened out in 2013. There were just too many tidy results.

The big question is can the Fire overcome any laws of balancing out with improvements in depth, partnerships carrying over into the new year, and a full pre-season with the main squad for the first time in awhile.

My favorite example is a card game. The Fire may be due for some worse draws from the deck but how much better is their hand this time around?

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