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How many players did Chivas USA use in 2013, and does that tell us anything?

Chivas played a lot of guys in 2013, but what does it mean when comparing them to the rest of the league?

Bowen: One of 34 in 2013.
Bowen: One of 34 in 2013.
Jeff Gross

One of the feelings many Chivas USA fans had this year was that the team used quite a few players during the 2013 season. Obviously, with a midseason coaching change and what appeared to be two separate roster turnovers (or perhaps rather just a continual churning throughout the year) it is no surprise the Goats went through many players, 34 who saw action with the first team in MLS competition, to be exact.

With the roster maximum currently set at 30 players, certainly surpassing that total indicates the substantial level of turnover, but does it really mean much, both in the context of the club and of the league? That remains in the air, to be honest.

First, take a look at the number of players Chivas USA played in every MLS Regular Season.

Year # of Players Used Playoffs?
2013 34 No
2012 30 No
2011 27 No
2010 31 No
2009 20 Yes
2008 31 Yes
2007 24 Yes
2006 24 Yes
2005 26 No

You'll notice that Chivas have played at least 30 players four times in their history, and three of those times (three of the last four years, to be exact) they missed the postseason. It would seem to indicate that there may be a connection between the number of players used and the likelihood of making the playoffs, where more players actually lowers the team's chances.

But in order to really see if this was the case, I compared the numbers for the rest of the league in the 2013 season. In order to see if there was a disparity between playoff teams and non-playoff teams, I divided them into two separate groups.

First, the other teams that did not make the playoffs (D.C. United isn't included because their stats page was down while I was working on this):

Team # of players used
Chicago Fire 27
Columbus Crew 25
FC Dallas 25
Philadelphia Union 24
San Jose Earthquakes 28
Toronto FC 35
Vancouver Whitecaps 26
Average* 28

* Includes Chivas USA's number, and doesn't include D.C. United

A couple interesting observations from this table. First, only Toronto FC joined Chivas in the "over 30" club, and they actually surpassed the Goats in number of players used, a title they seem to grab basically every year. Taking away those two teams, the rest of the league is bunched pretty closely together in the mid-20s.

Now, let's look at the teams that did make the playoffs in 2013:

Team # of players used
Colorado Rapids 32
Houston Dynamo 25
LA Galaxy 28
Montreal Impact 25
New England Revolution 26
New York Red Bulls 27
Portland Timbers 26
Real Salt Lake 27
Seattle Sounders 29
Sporting Kansas City 24
Average 26.9

So the average does differ, but only by about a player. Only one team, Colorado, used more than 30 players and made the playoffs, but the Rapids appeared to have the most significant injury problems in the league this year (anecdotally, anyway...if anyone is digging through spotty information to figure out games lost numbers, please let me know).

There seem to be two basic reasons why teams would use relatively more players than other teams in MLS: massive roster turnover, connected at least in part to preseason and/or midseason coaching changes (Chivas, Toronto), or major injury problems (Colorado, we can probably throw Seattle in that group as well). Beyond that, the rest of the teams fit into the 24-28 range for the season.

What does this tell us about Chivas? Somewhat less than you might think. Yes, of course their number of players used was an outlier, and their record demonstrates they couldn't do what Colorado did. But the sheer number of players used doesn't really seem to be an indicator of a team's playoff prospects. Instead, indicators like MLS experience (measured in carryover minutes, for example) probably mean considerably more than mere number of players. For what it's worth, Chivas only had 36 percent of their minutes as carryover minutes this year, by far their worst number, and nowhere near the levels most playoff teams sit, which looks to be the mid-60 percentile, at least. But that might be a discussion for another post.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!