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Running the Numbers: MLS Carryover Minutes in 2013

With the 2013 MLS Season in the final stretch, how does your team compare in one of MLS' most important statistics for team success?

Will Montreal be celebrating the Supporters' Shield in October? The Carryover Minutes suggest yes.
Will Montreal be celebrating the Supporters' Shield in October? The Carryover Minutes suggest yes.
Jean-Yves Ahern-US PRESSWIRE

Carryover Minutes in Major League Soccer is a concept I have been looking at for over 2 years now. The premise is pretty simple: the best teams in MLS have about 80% of their Regular Season minutes coming from players that were with the team the previous season. Let's use the 2013 numbers for one of the gold standards of MLS Carryover Minutes, Real Salt Lake, to provide an example. I'll provide the Chicago Fire numbers as well because this is a Chicago soccer blog.

Ned Grabavoy M 23 21 1953 Joao Plata F 22 14 1254
Nat Borchers D 20 20 1800 Lovel Palmer D 13 11 940
Nick Rimando GK 20 20 1800 Olmes Garcia F 18 6 754
Javier Morales M 21 19 1705 Khari Stephenson M 16 7 656
Kyle Beckerman M 19 19 1651 Carlos Salcedo D 9 8 721
Tony Beltran D 18 18 1609 Devon Sandoval F 13 7 623
Luis Gil M 21 17 1435 Aaron Maund D 3 3 270
Chris Wingert D 13 13 1105 Josh Saunders GK 3 3 231
Chris Schuler D 12 12 1080 Jeff Attinella GK 3 2 219
Alvaro Saborio F 12 11 991 Brandon McDonald D 1 1 90
Robbie Findley F 17 13 938 Cole Grossman M 1 1 77
Sebastian Velasquez M 16 8 775 John Stertzer M 2 0 33
Abdoulie Mansally D 12 7 669 Rich Balchan D 0 0 0
Yordany Alvarez M 13 7 668 Total 5868
Kwame Watson-Siriboe D 7 7 630
David Viana M 0 0 0
Eduardo Fernandez GK 0 0 0
Enzo Martinez M 0 0 0
Total 18809
2013 Carryover Minutes 76%

Austin Berry D 23 23 2070 Jeff Larentowicz M 22 21 1907
Jalil Anibaba D 23 23 2070 Joel Lindpere M 20 16 1345
Gonzalo Segares D 21 21 1890 Bakary Soumare D 13 13 1170
Chris Rolfe F-M 22 21 1650 Dilly Duka M 20 15 1131
Sean Johnson GK 17 17 1530 Mike Magee M 11 11 964
Patrick Nyarko M 19 17 1529 Maicon Santos F 15 1 379
Alex M 19 11 958 Quincy Amarikwa F 10 0 207
Daniel Paladini M 17 7 785 Juan Luis Anangono F 2 2 140
Logan Pause M 11 9 759 Arevalo Rios M 1 1 90
Sherjill MacDonald F 13 7 579 Shaun Francis D 1 1 90
Paolo Tornaghi GK 6 6 540 Yazid Atouba Emane M 3 0 55
Wells Thompson D 7 6 520 Alec Kann GK 0 0 0
Steven Kinney D 2 2 180 Brendan King M 0 0 0
Hunter Jumper D 1 1 90 Total 7478
Michael Videira M 2 1 84
Corben Bone M 1 0 3
Alvaro Fernandez M 0 0 0
Arne Friedrich D 0 0 0
Federico Puppo F 0 0 0
Kellen Gulley F 0 0 0
Orr Barouch F 0 0 0
Victor Pineda M 0 0 0
Total 15237
2013 Carryover Minutes 67%

Long-time followers of Carryover Minutes might recognize a change in the formatting of these numbers. The original format can be seen in the first post from 2011. These different formulas will sometimes result in a difference of a percentage point or two, usually giving the team a higher carryover minutes number. Going forward, I will use the formula above even when the expansion draft returns and makes the 'protected %' + 'exempt %' + 'unprotected %' formula relevant again.

76% is a great number of carryover minutes to have. 67% is an okay number of carryover minutes to have. As you can see in the chart below, every team that has won the Supporters' Shield or the MLS Cup since 2007 has had a MLS Carryover Minutes mark of 77% or higher with the exception of Supporters' Shield Winners D.C. United in 2007 and MLS Cup Winners Colorado Rapids in 2010. Even those two squads had decent rates of 72% and 67% respectively.

Team 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Chicago Fire 83 82 92 71 43 70
Chivas USA 68 65 62 63 49 47
Colorado Rapids 61 77 70 67* 82 60
Columbus Crew 61 77^* 83^ 95 59 59
D.C. United 72^ 51 56 45 44 66
FC Dallas 80 74 52 78 80 71
Houston Dynamo 79* 81 85 87 72 84
LA Galaxy 50 63 42 81^ 80^* 78*
New England Revolution 74 77 70 58 60 60
New York Red Bulls 47 76 65 52 64 47
Philadelphia Union N/A N/A N/A N/A 61 71
Portland Timbers N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 61
Real Salt Lake 44 57 94* 91 96 89
San Jose Earthquakes N/A N/A 51 66 82 81^
Seattle Sounders N/A N/A N/A 85 78 66
Sporting KC 72 65 81 60 63 87
Toronto FC N/A 52 51 51 35 64
Vancouver Whitecaps N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 53

bold = top 5 finish - * = MLS Cup - ^ = Supporters' Shield - Montreal has no data in this period and were thus excluded

In last year's main post, I threw out a couple of theories as to what might be going on here. I'll repeat some of them here for newcomers. If you aren't new to Carryover Minutes, please feel free to skip ahead to Elite Talent.

Does this mean that Major League Soccer's end game should be keeping the same players on your squad year after year? Not exactly. In what I refer to as the 'Beer League' effect, you can't take just any 30 individuals from your local park district and expect to climb up the MLS table. Proper talent evaluation must be made. Teams have to work around MLS' salary cap. Front offices have to pick up the phone when foreign teams call for their best players and when those players want to leave for grander stages.

My main take away from these numbers is that your typical MLS player needs time to gel with their teammates and learn the league. It may sound dullingly commonsense but this is not how your typical player analysis takes place. Players are expected to have immediate impacts.

Analysts often give more weight to individual talent than they do team cohesion. The fact of the matter is there's nothing like trial and error. Two teammates that have found they can't beat Opposing Player A with Move/Pass A won't waste possession trying to accomplish Move/Pass A. The same two teammates will try something else and have a better chance at succeeding. Over time, the two teammates discover what works for them in any kind of situation... as long as a coach lets a promising pairing blossom. At higher levels of soccer you have smarter, faster players with fewer flaws. Transitions are easier to make. In MLS, it takes more time to work around flaws and find winning combinations.

Elite Talent

Last year I opined that super elite talent explained the overachieving success of the 2009 Seattle Sounders, 2009 LA Galaxy, and the 2010 New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls continued to have a lower carryover minutes number in 2012 (47%) but continued to finish in the top 5 in the league. I'll say again that having Thierry Henry and a player like Tim Cahill are keeping New York outliers in finishing top 5 but their lack of carryover minutes might be keeping them from greater glory.

Now you could think that since every team finally has a designated player, this year will mark the beginning of the end for the relevancy of carryover minutes. I can see future MLS campaigns being a battle royale between the top players in the league but I think there will also be some truth in the words of Syndrome: 'when everyone's super, no one will be'. You can have a player or two provide you with a boost, but to win the MLS Cup and especially the long grind of the Supporters' Shield, you need the stability of a strong team. If everyone gets a Thierry Henry, the fundamentals return to being the core of any fight. When everyone has a designated player, the players aren't that designated anymore.

2013 Carryover Minutes as of August 20, 2013

Team % PPG
Montreal Impact 87 1.65
Portland Timbers 53 1.65
Real Salt Lake 76 1.64
Houston Dynamo 89 1.57
New York Red Bulls 57 1.56
Sporting KC 80 1.56
Seattle Sounders 70 1.55
LA Galaxy 81 1.54
Philadelphia Union 75 1.52
Colorado Rapids 55 1.50
Vancouver Whitecaps 68 1.50
FC Dallas 71 1.38
New England Revolution 70 1.38
Chicago Fire 67 1.35
San Jose Earthquakes 80 1.32
Columbus Crew 66 1.21
Toronto FC 39 0.83
Chivas USA 46 0.78
D.C. United 75 0.54

The 2013 season is in its final third and I think the Carryover Minutes theory is holding strong. My friend PeterC over at has been keeping an eye on Carryover Minutes all year long and so far he has been in disagreement. It's true that Portland looks to crash the theory. New York is keeping up their perennial challenge.

However, seven of the top 9 teams have at least 70% of their minutes coming from players that were on the team the year before. After Philadelphia at No. 9, the only teams sniffing 80% right now are San Jose and D.C. United. I don't blame D.C. and San Jose for playing many of the same players that brought them very good seasons in 2012. Their lack of success goes to show you that a high Carryover Minutes number doesn't guarantee success but success is almost guaranteed to show a high number of Carryover Minutes.

A Goal for Success or an Indicator of Success?

Some people point out that carryover minutes don't do anything more than tell an obvious story. Good teams simply keep their best players. High carryover minutes tell the story of a team that hasn't had to deal with injury issues or international absences. A MLS team shouldn't inherently seek to have high carryover minutes.

I think there's some truth to carryover minutes being a little bit correlation and a little bit causation but there's shrewd player management going on here too. Look at Real Salt Lake being forced to trade away Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Jamison Olave this past off-season and still maintaining a 76% Carryover Minutes mark in 2013. Players like Yordany Alvarez, Abdoulie Mansally, Sebastian Velasquez, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, and Chris Schuler have been with RSL since at least 2012 if not much longer and each player is on pace to break their previous record of minutes played with the team.

Some credit must be attributed to RSL's management for working previous players into place instead of going out and trying to sign individual copies of Johnson, Espindola, and Olave. So far it looks like they have had success creating partnerships with their existing players that are good enough as the partnerships they previously had with what every analyst would tell you was superior talent.

End of 2013 Season

Last year on September 29, 2012, I wrote the following:

As the 2012 MLS Regular Season comes to a close, history suggests Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC, Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes or LA Galaxy will win the MLS Cup. The 2010 Colorado Rapids give some hope to the teams on the outside like Chicago, D.C., Seattle, Columbus, New York, and Dallas but it seems to be a puncher's chance. There does seem to be a major advantage for 'teams' that are in fact teams. Low carryover minutes clubs should be proud of what they do this year but it probably isn't your year this time around.

There were about 4 games remaining for teams at point. At this point in the 2013 season, teams have about 10 games remaining. Things are more wide open.

The favorites for the MLS Cup and/or the Supporters' Shield right now are Montreal, Salt Lake, Houston, Kansas City, and LA. Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Vancouver, New England and San Jose are hanging out around the edges. Portland and New York look to defy the odds at the top. History suggests Colorado, Columbus, Toronto, and D.C. would be better off focusing on next year.

A follow-up specific to the Chicago Fire will follow this article.