League of Streaks

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

That the Revolution slipped into a three-way tie for third place in the Eastern Conference with a win over Colorado on Wednesday night following an eight-game losing streak says a lot about how success works in the league.

No team should get frantic over prolonged losing streaks—MLS has turned into a league of streaks this year. Case in point, the Revolution, whose eight-match skid was preceded by a two-month goal and win fest. The inconsistency isn’t a problem per se, since this team, according to the numbers, is playoff caliber.

Of the ten teams currently occupying a playoff place, only Seattle, Colorado, and DC United haven’t had a winless run that’s lasted four or more games. Most playoff teams have gone on more than one losing run, too. The Revolution have one less loss than the last place Montreal Impact, but are well above them in the standings thanks to the topsy-turvy form that has seen them, like so many other teams, go on  these prolonged winning and losing runs.

Does this tell us anything new about MLS?

What’s not new is that the best teams do go on losing streaks—like Seattle, DC, Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake—but usually pull themselves out of the muck sooner rather than later. What’s worth a closer look, however, is how despite the increasing competition for playoff spots as the league expands, teams can still ride out the cold spells, no matter how long, and get hot at the right time.

In the last few seasons, flirting between the extreme winning and losing runs has actually yielded significant success. In 2012, the Los Angeles Galaxy, albeit a star-studded team, followed the pattern, staying out of the playoff picture until mid-July before going on a run that saw them lose just twice in a 16-game span en route to an MLS Cup championship.

The Revolution, a more modest example, have lived and died by this method of getting into the playoffs for years, too. The Revolution followed this pattern in playoff runs in 2002, 2004, 2008, and most recently in 2013. In other years they either limped into the playoffs or were the equivalent of the present-day Sounders or Sporting Kansas City.

How are teams able to do so well despite losing so much? One explanation is mental fortitude, of which the Revolution had plenty last year. Until mid-May, the team could hardly put the ball in the back of the net. A change in tactics, plus the mindset of treating every game like the playoffs, helped push the Revolution into the post-season. Of course, the addition of Juan Agudelo helped too.

The opposite is true, too. The Montreal Impact was at the top of the conference until September last season, losing just five times in 20 games. They may have suffered from an aging squad, or simply gotten comfortable, causing them to lose their mental edge and bomb out of the playoffs.

Snapping the eight-game slide means a new beginning for the Revolution, though they should count their blessings that league play is such that they can stay in playoff position despite going two months without gaining a point. The Revolution may be a young, still inexperienced, squad with four teams breathing down their neck for a playoff place, but they have at least been down this road before. It’s not about being consistent for an entire season. It’s about getting hot at the right time and making it last.

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About Julian Cardillo

Julian Cardillo is an American sports journalist who has contributed to New England Soccer Today since its inception. He has also written for The Boston Globe, Boston.com, The Advocate, Soccerly, and a number of other outlets. He was a foreign correspondent for Boston.com in 2012, covering AS Roma from Italy. He has contributed to Roma Radio and Yahoo Sports Radio. Julian speaks English, Italian, and French. He has a Politics degree from Brandeis University, where he is currently taking graduate classes. Follow him on twitter @juliancardillo