MLS vs. USL vs. NASL

There has been significant debate about the quality of USL PRO vs. NASL and while that debate has subsided a bit as the leagues have had some time to get over the USL/Traffic fracture I thought it would make for an interesting project to try and compare the quality of the leagues now that we have a couple seasons worth of results to compare. This is an idea I’ve kicked around for a while, but after attending the Orlando City vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies match I though I’d give it a go.

To start, a few notes on methodology: I will primarily be looking at quality as a function of results - that is, quality will be decided in terms of wins/losses/draws. I am aware that this is not always the best way to examine ‘quality’, but I have also found that MOST times the sides exhibiting technical prowess tend to do the best (again, there are exceptions like Chelsea in Champions League play last season and even then Chelsea is still pretty high up the ladder in Europe and it may not be fair to consider them a true exception). So, to have results to compare I will be drawing from 2012 and 2013 preseason results as well as the 2012  US Open Cup competition. I will weight both preseason and US Open Cup matches the same (though an argument could be made to give a slight advantage to Open Cup matches). In addition, I have included MLS in this survey for two reasons; 1. because it interests me and 2. because it provides another benchmark with which to compare the relative quality of both USL and NASL performances (it gives me a larger sample size to work with). Here’s what I came up with:

USL PRO Record vs. NASL = 3W, 1L, 1D, 7GF, 4GA (based on 5 matches)

NASL Record vs. USL PRO = 1W, 3L, 1D, 4GF, 7GA (based on 5 matches)

USL PRO Record vs. MLS = 5W, 11L, 1D, 25GF, 39GA (based on 17 matches)

NASL Record vs. MLS = 2W, 12L, 4D, 14GF, 36GA (based on 18 matches)

Head to head this suggests USL PRO is slightly ahead of NASL. It should be noted that 4 out of the 5 matches were decided by 1 goal or less. Thus with a larger sample size NASL could easily see the results swing back there way a bit. But until we have more results I give +1 to USL PRO.

Comparing each league based on results vs. MLS clubs also shows USL PRO with a slight edge. They have more victories though in terms of losses both NASL and USL PRO fared about the same. The goals for statistic leans heavily in favor of USL PRO who managed to score almost 2x the amount of goals against MLS as NASL. Goals against is almost even, slightly favoring NASL. I have to give USL PRO the nod here as well based on the greater number of victories and a significant lead on GF/GA ratio.

So for now, the scale is tipped in favor of USL PRO - though I expect to see the stats level off through the rest of this pre-season and into the 2013 US Open Cup. In fact, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see NASL surpass USL come the start of the 2014 season.

Closing thoughts: to be really thorough with a study of this nature we really need a bigger sample size. The numbers show one story right now, but with just a couple more games could easily lean the other direction. It should also be noted that looking at things in terms of leagues assumes a general parity between the teams in each league. Potentially a pretty big assumption, but until the sample size is better there isn’t much of a choice.

I believe these results raise some interesting questions regarding the ‘product’ of these leagues. It would be interesting to  compare the average ‘wage bills’ of the respective leagues and see how that plays into the equation. Ultimately, I think there are big implications for any would be club owner on which league offers a better ROI.


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