With the MLS All-Star Game in the rear view mirror, marking the unofficial start to the second half of the season, ESPNFC.com has delivered its first MLS Soccer Power Index projections of which six teams in each conference will make the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
And the biggest surprise on the list is most certainly the San Jose Earthquakes, with a projected 60% chance of making the postseason, even though they currently languish in eighth place in the Western Conference. The SPI calculations predict that the Quakes will sit in fifth place by season's end, passing three teams in the process.
According to the ESPN website, the "Soccer Power Index (SPI) is a regression-based algorithm based on the past four seasons, with recent results weighted more heavily. SPI generates offensive and defensive ratings for each team, then uses those ratings to project the remainder of the season."
As of these projections, the Earthquakes had only played 20 games, two fewer than the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps and three fewer than Sporting Kansas City -- the three teams San Jose is favored to finish the season ahead of, according the the SPI.
(Graphic from Paul Carr @PCarrESPN)
San Jose has 14 games remaining in the 2016 regular season, seven at home and seven on the road, and currently claim 26 points from 20 results. The Earthquakes are still winless on the road this season, a big reason that they sit below the top six in the West, something that will have to change if they want to make good on the SPI projections.
The Quakes have four games remaining against the Eastern Conference, including their next home game on August 5 against first-place New York City FC. In conference, San Jose has two games remaining with Colorado, projected at 99% to make the playoffs, but have completed their season series with both the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas. Two games each against Vancouver and Sporting KC provide the Earthquakes with ample games to make up ground in the standings.
Leading off the remaining 14 games of the season is a visit to the Houston Dynamo, the cellar-dwellers of the Western Conference. For the Quakes, it will be critical to earn points at BBVA Compass Stadium, importantly a victory. It is those opportunities against teams that are struggling in the table that San Jose needs to beat to make the SPI projections look good.
Notably, given that the SPI uses statistics from the last four seasons -- four seasons in which the Quakes have not made the playoffs -- it is very surprising to see San Jose with such a lofty percentage. Maybe the computers know something, and these Earthquakes will be the first since 2012, their Supporters' Shield winning season, to contest for the MLS Cup championship.