RBNY Notes: Home field holds the key to Red Bulls' playoff hopes

Over at his insightful blog Soccer by the Numbers, Chris Anderson followed a post that summarized the effects of home-field advantage in the English Premier League by observing that Manchester United maximized its ability to collect draws on the road in addition to winning at home en route to winning the 2010-11 EPL division title.

Inspired by Chris's efforts, here's a look at the effects of a home-field advantage in MLS during the Red Bulls era (2007-present):

  • Since 2007, home sides in MLS have won 47% and lost 23.8% of their matches while settling for draws in the remaining 29.2% of their regular-season fixtures. That trend means all MLS sides since 2007 finished with slightly more draws than defeats, collected twice as many wins than losses, and ultimately accrued almost as many wins as non-wins at home.

  • However, draws are way, way up in 2011. 38.2% of all MLS matches in 2011 thus far have ended in ties, which is considerably higher than the five-year average. Moreover, the next-highest percentage of draws in a regular season occurred in 2009 when 30.7% of all matches concluded in a draw. So if it feels like the Red Bulls' 14 draws this season is hefty, it's not unusual in the context of what the rest of the league is doing.

  • What is unusual is where those draws are taking place for New York. The Red Bulls collected ties in 64.3% of all regular season matches away from their namesake arena in 2011, which is not only significantly higher than the 2011 average but, more surprisingly, the second-highest ratio in MLS after the Houston Dynamo at 66.7% have finished level in two-thirds of their road matches. After the Red Bulls and Dynamo, no other potential playoff contender except Chivas USA (46.2%) presently possesses an away draw ratio above the average.

  • Those away draws come at the expense of wins and losses -- a reality to which New York is not exempt. New York's only win on the road makes up 7.1% of the road results while the losses contribute 28.6%. While the losses fall well below the average, only one MLS playoff side in the Red Bulls era clinched a playoff spot with a worse away win ratio: the 2008 New York Red Bulls with 6.7%. And that 2007 side at least had the decency to win 60% of its home games before making a playoff run that resulted in New York's first and only MLS Cup appearance.

So how does this affect the Red Bulls over their final eight games? For starters, five of their final matches will take place at Red Bull Arena. As previously demonstrated, MLS sides win twice as many matches as they lose at home. For a New York side praying for another 12 points in the standings to feel better about its postseason hopes, that's a phenomenon that could provide an edge as long as the back line can make a few leads stand up.

More importantly, two of New York's remaining three away games will occur in the two matches preceding their final regular season game at home against the Philadelphia Union on October 20. The ratios suggest that New York may have accumulated too many draws at the expense of road wins and likely can't sustain that during a postseason push.

Those two away matches -- October 1 at Toronto FC, October 15 at Sporting Kansas City -- will come at a pivotal time in the stretch run. If New York fails to accrue victories in September, that road trip represents what could be the last chance to undo that damage. Draws don't fix things; only wins will do that.