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LAFC are struggling, but the numbers say they’ve been unlucky

Might be scant consolation, but...

MLS: Los Angeles FC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

LAFC are on a five-game winless run, their worst such run since 2019 (which to be fair, turned out to be a Supporters’ Shield-winning season). But nobody feels like they’re about to win a trophy at the moment.

A combination of regressing to the mean, hard, in terms of goals scored and dropping a league-leading number of points this season have put the black-and-gold on the edge of the playoff picture and looking like they’re about to really tumble down the standings.

Fans are calling for drastic action, and while I may agree on some counts and disagree on others, it’s obvious this team has lost its mojo and a week with two losses leaves us all feeling like this team is in the dumps.

But if you’re way down on the team at the moment, you’re probably not going to like what I’m about to say. Because they appear to still be a good team, albeit incredibly unlucky.

Eliot McKinley posted another fantastic graphic on Monday on Twitter, demonstrating the placement around the league for teams from good to bad and lucky to unlucky so far in 2021. LAFC is one of the biggest outliers, and their outlier is “good but unlucky.”

This isn’t a subjective chart, it’s based on expected points for the teams going against the ratio of points to expected points for them. You can find the stats from American Soccer Analysis here.

Anyway, ASA puts LAFC’s expected points this season at a whopping 32.3, third in the league, as opposed to their actual points of 23, which is 15th in the league. If they actually had 32 points right now, they’d be 3rd or 4th in the Western Conference and within a win of 1st place.

The xP model even accounts for LAFC still dropping points in some of the games they have, and they are still way under it. So if you feel like they’ve been unlucky, the statistics seem to bear that out, really.

What does that mean? To me, it should give some hope that LAFC can still turn things around this season. Remember back to 2020, that cursed year. LAFC finished the regular season terribly, had a COVID outbreak right around the playoffs, and looked like road kill in their lone playoff game. But they got another chance to finish the season strong in the Concacaf Champions League, and took advantage. It was a small sample size, yes, but they balled in those games, and came within about 25 minutes of winning the CCL. They showed they could turn things around in short order.

This is why, maybe against the mounting evidence, that I don’t think this season is gone yet for LAFC, frankly. I’ve followed sports long enough to know I can’t count on them flipping a switch and getting results again, but I think there’s a good chance they can.

But it is worth noting that in spite of my optimism, and the statistics, it’s also possible that LAFC could be stuck in this stasis all season and never really shake themselves out of their rut. The imaginary xP table could anoint them contenders, and the actual table could show them fighting just to reach the playoffs, and they may never match up the stats and the real world situations. That’s certainly possible, too.

So we’ll see what happens. But if, like me, you’ve seen this team certainly underperform in a myriad of ways and still get the sense that they aren’t actually a bad team this season, there is some statistical evidence to support that feeling. Can they spin out of the rut and start performing? Time will tell.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.