According to the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight, New York City FC is the best club in MLS—and one of the better teams on the planet. NYCFC is ranked #117 in the world, on level with Ligue 1’s Montpellier and ahead of perpetual Champion’s League group stagier Dynamo Kyiv.
Just to be clear this isn't a hot take, it's science.
Aliens vs Dinosaurs
Rather, it’s the Soccer Power Index, the ratings spit out by the HAL 9000 at the FiveThirtyEight campus. NYCFC’s SPI is 56.7, which is pretty sharp. It’s better than the New England Revolution’s SPI of 50.1. So what if the Revolution already walked away with the Community Shield? Silverware, schmilverware—we know who the real winners are.
The list is a fun read. Cruise around the low 100s and you see that the Pigeons are in solid company. NYCFC isn’t as good as Sampdoria or São Paulo, but better than Galatasaray and Genoa? Cool.
The SPI works if you believe an algorithm can quantify performance in radically different leagues. It’s not just handicapping European squads that regularly play against one another, but the aliens vs dinosaurs matchups you get when comparing Japan’s J1 League, Mexico’s Liga MX, Brazil’s Brasileirão, and our very own MLS.
Can you really standardize team play across the Super League, Super League, Super League, Superliga, and Süper Lig? Nate Silver seems to think so.
If all of this is make-believe, why even pay attention to FiveThirtyEight’s SPI?
Maybe because it rings true.
For long stretches this season NYCFC’s play was so silky-smooth it looked like it could slide through the defense of a solid European team. But then the Pigeons would fail to convert, or give away a junk goal, or both, and spike a win. NYCFC has systematically underperformed.
The SPI helps frame the disparity between the team’s quality and its place on the table: Never mind the standings, which is just a tally of wins, draws, and losses, NYCFC is hands-down the best team in MLS.
FiveThirtyEight also picks the Revolution to win the MLS Cup. Fair enough. As of publication, NYCFC’s was given a 13% chance of winning, which places the team is at the middle of the top of the pack but well behind the favorites.
In other words, NYCFC isn’t just the best team in MLS, it will go home empty-handed this season. Sound familiar?
True, FiveThirtyEight’s divinations don't always pan out. Last year, the site predicted that the Philadelphia Union would win the MLS Cup, and they were knocked out in the first round. Eventual champions Columbus Crew SC were given a pitiful 5% chance of winning.
Was that because of a miscalculation, the unthinkable mistake from HAL 9000? Or was it the kind of bizzaro result we now expect from the mad, mad, mad, mad world of MLS tournaments?
No matter. Right now, we now have objective, mathematical proof that NYCFC is the best team in MLS. Fight me.