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What does Toronto FC need to do to be the greatest in MLS history?

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Here’s how it looks in the record books.

MLS: Toronto FC at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC are the winners of the 2017 Supporters’ Shield. Not mathematically yet, but certainly realistically. Eleven points up with only five games to play. A great achievement, by a great group of stars!

One mission accomplished. Now let’s focus on the next major milestone: the title of greatest team in MLS history.

There are two teams that the Reds must beat in order to claim this undisputed title: the 1998 LA Galaxy and the 2011 LA Galaxy.

The table as of 2pm on Sunday.
mlssoccer.com

As an interesting sidebar, the 1998 squad happened to feature TFC assistant coaches Robin Fraser and Dan Calichman as well as head coach Greg Vanney. This team battered their opponents, recording 68 points in just 32 games and scoring 85 goals along the way.

But these records were set during the shootout phase of MLS’ early days – a time when draws were unacceptable. In order to better equate the feats of 1998 to today, we will have to normalize for the shootout system and extrapolate those results over 34 matches. That shootout system awarded one point for a shootout win and zero points for a loss.

Relative to the current system of awarding one point after a 90 minute tie, the shootout structure actually adversely impacted LA’s point total. During the 1998 season, the Galaxy went 2–2 in shootout games. This means that they only received two points even though they recorded four 90-minute draws.

The record book for 1998 looks like this:

The 1998 Galaxy’s actual record

Actual Wins Actual Losses Actual Draws Actual Points Actual Goals For Actual Goals Against Actual Goal Differential
Actual Wins Actual Losses Actual Draws Actual Points Actual Goals For Actual Goals Against Actual Goal Differential
24 8 0 68 85 44 41

But if we equate the above to today’s point allocation system, we get the following modern-day picture of LA’s accomplishment:

The shootout-converted record

Wins Losses Draws Points Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential
Wins Losses Draws Points Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential
22 6 4 70 85 44 41

Then, if we extrapolate over 34 games, we arrive at:

The 34-game record

Wins Losses Draws Points Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential
Wins Losses Draws Points Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential
23.375 6.375 4.25 74.375 90.313 46.75 43.563

The ‘extrapolation’ argument is a weak one, to be sure. However, certain factions will cling to it. Therefore, in order to claim the undisputed title, TFC must overcome it. Quite simply, the best way to do this is to beat it – outright!

The final consideration is the quality of the opposition: 1998 vs 2017. As this is a qualitative assessment, it is subject to interpretation.

Most objective observers would agree that today’s MLS boasts more talent and parity than at any other point in the league’s history. Therefore, quantitative accomplishments in 2017 that are similar to 1998 should be viewed in greater terms. Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted conversion factor for this, but suffice to say that if TFC gets within decimal points of the above totals, the nod will be given to the Reds.

Another way to measure this is goal differential. Since this stat takes into account the offensive and defensive abilities of a squad relative to its opposition, it is a measure of overall team performance at that time. If a team is to be dubbed “the greatest of all time”, then it should rate strongly in this category as well.

The 2011 version of the LA Galaxy is much more straightforward. This team played the same number of games, under the same points system, against opposition more in line with today’s league (not as good, but closer than in 1998). By virtue of its point total, the pundits have deemed this team to be the best MLS outfit of the post-shootout era.

2011 looked like this for LA:

The Galaxy in 2011

Actual Wins Actual Losses Actual Draws Actual Points Actual Goals For Actual Goals Against Actual Goal Differential
Actual Wins Actual Losses Actual Draws Actual Points Actual Goals For Actual Goals Against Actual Goal Differential
19 5 10 67 48 28 20

So far, Toronto is on pace to better L.A.’s 2011 record in all aspects except for goals against. Assuming the Reds win two more games during the regular season, we will consider the 2011 LA argument closed.

Refocusing on the revised 1998 Galaxy stats, the Reds have a fair bit of work still ahead of them. They must get to 74 points to silence all skeptics. This means four wins over the next five matches. They must also maintain their current goal differential per game of 1.276 (2.17 GF vs. 0.90 GA). Against good opposition, fighting for playoff seeding, with two matches on artificial turf, this will not be easy.

As seemingly every member of the team has said over the past few weeks, “We haven’t accomplished anything yet. We need to take it one game at a time”. Hopefully, that one game at a time leads straight to the top of the record book – a record-setting season filled with stars, but no asterisks.