Impact of European Veterans joining MLS

Los Angeles Galaxy MLS Houston Dynamo Press Box
Photo courtesy of Sports Out West staff

Recently, Major League Soccer (MLS) has seen a surge of marquee European soccer stars including Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Steven Gerrard joining the North American league.

To determine whether these moves were entirely about filling up seats or whether the older players would have an impact in the standings, AccuScore’s advanced algorithm simulated the remainder of the MLS season 10,000 times with and without the stars.

Galaxy on the rise with Gerrard

Last year’s champion Los Angeles Galaxy strengthened their already strong squad with the acquisition of 35-year-old Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. While his best days as a dominating box-to-box midfielder are unquestionably over, Gerrard might well be the balancing factor that the Galaxy needs in its hunt for its fourth title in the past five seasons.

L.A. Galaxy is currently sitting 2nd in the Western Conference and in a rather comfortable playoff position with 11 games remaining. Per AccuScore’s advanced simulation forecasts, the Galaxy gathered an average of 20 points from the remaining 11 games before the arrival of Steven Gerrard. Without the Liverpool legend, L.A. Galaxy projected to win six, draw two and lose three. That record would push L.A. to 54 points, which projects for 4th place in the Western Conference.

With Gerrard in the lineup, the probability of L.A. Galaxy winning any of the remaining games increased approximately 3-6%. This resulted in a record of 8-3-0, adding up to 24 points and regular season position of 2nd in the West. AccuScore’s simulations suggest that in close games, which seem like a coin-flip according to the probabilities, Gerrard can be the decider to bag the points. This also indicates that in the playoffs, where goals are even harder to come by, the Englishman can produce some magic out of thin air.

Midfield maestros in the Big Apple

Arguably the best playmaker for a decade in Europe – and not-so-arguably in Italy, Andrea Pirlo shocked many by snubbing offers from Europe and signing to MLS newbie New York City FC. Hardly at home yet, Pirlo has already showed remarkable skills in his new team. Based in his debut, it is easy for anyone to see that the 36-year-old still has a lot to give from his bag of tricks. Along with Pirlo, Chelsea-legend Frank Lampard also joined N.Y.C. FC but has yet to make an appearance in his new club following a calf injury. Lampard’s impact is yet to be determined but if any conclusions can be drawn by his latest endeavors in Europe, Lampard still possesses the ability to control the flow of the game and produce goals when they’re most needed.

New York City is currently standing 7th in the Eastern Conference, just out of the playoffs. They’ve collected 24 points from 21 games and are in dire need of wins to reach the post-season. The acquisitions from Europe are expected to deliver just that – considering the money spent, missing playoffs is unacceptable. In AccuScore simulations, without Pirlo and Lampard in the squad, the New York team projects to win four, draw two and lose seven of their remaining 13 matches. That record would add up to 38 points and the computer projects that as the 8th spot in the East. But what impact, if any, will the addition of the European midfield maestros have to City’s playoff hopes?

Though N.Y.C. FC projects to make the postseason without Pirlo and Lambard, the AccuScore advanced simulations calculated a definite impact with the two European greats in the lineup. New York City would still somewhat struggle, especially on the road, but those close margin games seem to turn in City’s favor. That being said, it will still be a tough challenge for the playoffs with the remaining games resulting in five wins, three draws and five defeats. With 42 points the City is expected to clinch the final playoff-spot in the east, but by the skin of their teeth.

Making the playoffs in the East is tough, but the European additions help considerably.

Around the world with Drogba

Chelsea’s Ivorian superstar striker Didier Drogba raised some eyebrows in 2012 when he decided to leave the London club to play in China – right after banging in his 100th goal for the Blues. Since then, he’s spent time in Turkey and also made a heartfelt return to Chelsea to bring back the Premier League title to Stamford Bridge with Jose Mourinho. Now there’s another continent and a new challenge to overcome for the big Ivorian, but is he still up for the task at age 37? Montreal Impact might not be the most prestigious of clubs, but a marquee signing – albeit an aging one, might take the team to another level.

At the moment the Impact are standing in the 6th and final playoff-spot in the Eastern Conference, but with three games in hand compared to the next in line. Without Drogba in the lineup, Montreal projects to finish strong with AccuScore projecting the Impact to finish with 49 points and the fifth spot in the East. While Drogba’s match fitness remains in doubt, even if the Ivorian can stay on the pitch, AccuScore’s advanced simulations projects Drogba’s total impact would be two extra points for the remainder of the season. Drogba’s ability to push Montreal slightly higher may be the difference in the postseason, and Drogba has a reputation of performing in cup games.

Not All for Show

Gerrard adds four points to L.A. Galaxy, and Lampard and Pirlo combine to add four points to New York City FC. For both clubs, they replace two losses with a win and a draw by signing the big name talents. A team like New York City FC may not make the postseason even with those extra couple of results, but their odds a significantly diminished without the pair of midfielders. Drogba does improve Montreal, but the team already figures to finish strong, so his impact is only adding two points over 16 games.

In all three cases, AccuScore’s advanced simulations showed that each MLS team improved with its respective European additions.

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Rohit Ghosh

LA Clippers beat writer
Rohit is an L.A.-based sports journalist who contributes to SB Nation's Silver Screen and Roll, AccuScore, and the Taxi Squad Show based out of Utah. He also runs his own sports blog, Metta Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter @RohitGhosh where he discusses AccuScore projection data, a variety of sports-related topics, and even some Jazz music.


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