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Carryover Minutes in MLS: Back to Basics and 2016

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MLS: MLS Cup John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I was reviewing MLS rosters almost 6 years ago when it dawned on me that good MLS teams weren’t being built overnight. Despite relative salary parity and a maze of player acquisition rules crafted to instill equality, the good teams were never being slapped together in one off-season. Teams that did feature several or more off-season moves always seemed to be slapped down low in the standings the following season. I continued to track these numbers before then I took a hiatus.

With the 2017 MLS season starting, there seemed like no better time to dive right back in. I’ll review 2016 Carryover Minute percentages before back tracking and covering 2015, 2014, and 2013 in a follow-up article. First, let’s review the Carryover Minutes basics.

What are Carryover Minutes?

For the uninitiated, a Carryover Minute is a minute gained from a player that was with your team the previous year. Anytime reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco goes a full 90 this year for Toronto FC, the Canadian club will acquire a full 90 Carryover Minutes in 2017. If TFC off-season acquisition Chris Mavinga plays any minutes for his new team, or any team in MLS for that matter, that will not count for any Carryover Minutes. A minute from Mavinga is what I refer to as a Non-Carryover Minute. For a good visual, let’s take a look at Toronto FC’s Carryover Minutes break down for 2016.

Toronto FC 2016 Carryover Minutes

Carryover Player Mins Non-Carryover Player Mins
Carryover Player Mins Non-Carryover Player Mins
Justin Morrow 2653 Drew Moor 2880
Jonathan Osorio 2440 Steven Beitashour 2563
Sebastian Giovinco 2418 Clint Irwin 1690
Michael Bradley 2160 Will Johnson 1660
Marco Delgado 1995 Tsubasa Endoh 1387
Jozy Altidore 1487 Molham Babouli 647
Alex Bono 1370 Tosaint Ricketts 399
Eriq Zavaleta 1277 Armando Cooper 390
Damien Perquis 986 Raheem Edwards 2
Josh Williams 918 Non-Carryover Minutes 11618
Jordan Hamilton 911
Nick Hagglund 847
Benoit Cheyrou 800
Jay Chapman 780
Daniel Lovitz 406
Mark Bloom 339
Ashtone Morgan 157
Carryover Minutes 21944
Carryover Minutes Percentage 65.38%

Let’s now pretend that TFC sold Giovinco going into the 2016 season and replaced him with Swedish international superstar Överskott Protokoll. We’ll also pretend that Toronto’s minutes turned out the same except for Protokoll who played where Giovinco did in real life. Alternate universe 2016 Toronto FC would have had more lingonberries and looked like this:

Toronto FC 2016 Carryover Minutes (Protokoll Version)

Carryover Player Mins Non-Carryover Player Mins
Carryover Player Mins Non-Carryover Player Mins
Justin Morrow 2653 Drew Moor 2880
Jonathan Osorio 2440 Steven Beitashour 2563
Michael Bradley 2160 Överskott Protokoll 2418
Marco Delgado 1995 Clint Irwin 1690
Jozy Altidore 1487 Will Johnson 1660
Alex Bono 1370 Tsubasa Endoh 1387
Eriq Zavaleta 1277 Molham Babouli 647
Damien Perquis 986 Tosaint Ricketts 399
Josh Williams 918 Armando Cooper 390
Jordan Hamilton 911 Raheem Edwards 2
Nick Hagglund 847 Non-Carryover Minutes 14036
Benoit Cheyrou 800
Jay Chapman 780
Daniel Lovitz 406
Mark Bloom 339
Ashtone Morgan 157
Carryover Minutes 19526
Carryover Minutes Percentage 58.18%

What is a Carryover Minutes Percentage?

Now you might be wondering what a Carryover Minute Percentage is. Well the total number of minutes for every team in MLS over the course of a 34-game season is about 33,600. Red cards and funky official scoring make the total overall number slightly different for every team but it’s all the same basic math. To get the Carryover Minutes Percentage (CMP), you add up all of the Carryover Minutes, add up all the Non-Carryover Minutes, add Carryover Minutes and Non-Carryover Minutes together, and then divide Carryover Minutes by the Carryover Minutes and Non-Carryover Minutes total.

The formula spelled out is Carryover Minutes Percentage=Carryover Minutes/(Carryover Minutes+Non-Carryover Minutes).

You can see that when teams replace a main starter with a brand new player, they experience a CMP swing of about 7%. That number can be as high as 9% if you are talking about a linchpin defender or goalkeeper that makes every start. For example, New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles has started every regular season game and given his team 3060 minutes every year since 2013. Robles has been a rock for what has historically been an inconsistent franchise.

Why Does This Matter?

The old articles demonstrate the numbers more thoroughly but teams that enjoyed success in MLS between 2007-2012 (MLS Cup winners, MLS Cup runner-ups, Supporters’ Shield winners, etc.) almost all had CMPs around 70% or higher. In addition, teams that had CMPs of 50% or lower were almost universally terrible squads. This does not mean that teams with CMPs of 70% or higher were universally good. It’s quite the opposite sometimes. Or it was in the past. Here are the 2016 MLS Standings so we can see if the trends have been continuing.

The 2016 MLS Season in CMPs and PPGs

The following numbers reflect Mr. Giovinco’s TFC, not Mr. Protokoll’s just in case you were wondering

2016 MLS Carryover Minutes Percentages and Standings

Team CM% PTS PPG
Team CM% PTS PPG
Real Salt Lake 91.33 46 1.35
Sporting KC 87.86 47 1.38
Montreal Impact 86.86 45 1.32
New York Red Bulls 86.53 57 1.68
New England Revolution 83.39 42 1.24
Columbus Crew SC 82.84 36 1.06
San Jose Earthquakes 81.07 38 1.12
FC Dallas 74.50 60 1.76
Seattle Sounders FC 74.10 48 1.41
Portland Timbers 73.19 44 1.29
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 71.99 39 1.15
Orlando City SC 70.23 41 1.21
Houston Dynamo 68.56 34 1.00
New York City FC 68.22 54 1.59
Philadelphia Union 67.13 42 1.24
LA Galaxy 66.49 52 1.53
Toronto FC 65.38 53 1.56
Colorado Rapids 63.86 58 1.71
D.C. United 63.45 46 1.35
Chicago Fire 42.14 31 0.91
AVG 73.46 47 1.34

Here you can see Giovinco and Toronto FC are toward the bottom of the pack when it comes to their CMP. Yet TFC goes against the CMP/success model because they made it to the MLS Cup Final. In addition, 4 of the top 7 teams in CMP had below average seasons based on Points Per Game. Does this mean that Carryover Minutes are now insignificant (if they ever were)?

I’m going to argue no. Carryover Minutes Percentages help set the odds for your team’s ceiling. A good CMP does not establish the odds for your team’s floor. You can always get worse. For below average teams like Montreal, New England, San Jose, and Columbus, their lack of success was like if I grabbed 10 Hot Time in Old Town writers and alumni to be a team every year in the Annual Section 8 Chicago New Year’s Day Indoor Soccer Tournament. The HTIOT team might get better as we learned to play as a team together. The benefits of our learning might also get outpaced by the plagues of old age, other injuries, or a potential loss of motivation to the point where we got much worse against the competition.

Some of those problems and more must have hit the aforementioned MLS squads along with Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC who had high CMPs but were just barely above average teams in 2016. Perhaps if they would have brought in one or two more players, things would have turned out differently.

On the other CMP end, the Chicago Fire had one of the worst Carryover Minutes percentages in the history of MLS. They were off the charts low in CMP in 2016 and they were had a terrible campaign to show for it. Low CMP teams don’t win MLS Cups. They typically don’t win the Supporters’ Shield. They almost always don’t win at all. Last year’s numbers continue to demonstrate this.

Meanwhile the 2016 MLS winners circle included Supporters’ Shield raiser FC Dallas and MLS Cup victor Seattle Sounders FC. FC Dallas had a CMP of 74.50 and Seattle had a CMP of 74.10. Those numbers are right in the sweet spot of CMP success. The early signs point to Carryover Minutes Percentages still being a useful tool. In the next piece I’ll look at the percentages for 2013, 2014, and 2015 and talk more about what I think goes into MLS success.