How Much Do Kick Off Times Effect The MLS

Updated: 30 Football

Do kick off times have an effect on teams performances in the MLS? Dan Tracey has taken a deep dive into date to find out

How Much Do Kick Off Times Effect The MLS
Dan Tracey Data Scientist and Football Editor

Writer, analyst, podcaster, Spurs fan. Three out of four is not bad. If there is a data angle, I will find it.

When you look at the makeup of North American sports, there is no doubt that our landscape is incredibly vast. Be it New York on the East Coast or Los Angeles on the West, or anywhere between; there is plenty of requirements when it comes to traveling.

You must travel an incredible number of miles to win the biggest prizes. Not only do you have to get accustomed to a red-eye flight or a rather substantial drive, but you may also need to cross a couple of time zones while at it.

Something that only adds to the pre-match preparations that any head coach must carry out. It is not just planning how you will get the better of your opponents; you may also work out lengthy travel logistics simultaneously.

In addition to this, Major League Soccer, or the MLS as it is better known, has only just brought in standardized kick-off times at the start of the 2023 season. Before this, the fixtures' scheduling would offer something of a minefield.

Although it is a minefield that we will now look to deactivate as we take another analytical deep-dive, this time, the brief is to see just how much of an effect kick-off times have on performance, if at all.

However, just looking at the time of a game may not offer too much in the way of absolute answers. Therefore, we will cross reference this with the number of miles traveled per game and whether this also determines outright performance.

Therefore, with a full sample of 2022 regular season results and travel data now to hand, we will shine a light on our findings.

Long-Distance Road Trips

Firstly, we will examine whether a long-distance journey will scupper your hopes of picking up three points on the road. The best way to do this is by looking at the ten fixtures that generated the most miles traveled in terms of distance.

The most traveled fixture is between Minnesota United and San Jose. Either host will welcome a visitor who has traveled 4813.1 miles, and neither visitor will be returning to their own turf with any points for their efforts.

Seven of the ten regular season fixtures in 2022 resulted in home wins. Two saw the road team come out on top, and one would see the points shared – the incredible 4-4 draw between Minnesota Unite and the Portland Timbers.

If we were to build this out further and look at the 20 fixtures that had the most miles traveled by the visitors, the data would look as follows:

Twelve wins for the hosts, five draws, and three away wins. 60% of these most traveled matches in this sample are seeing home wins being recorded. Therefore, we can say that travel is playing some factor in the eventual outcome.

While we can dig a little further and see how many miles on average are needed when it comes to each regular season result: 

An MLS team that won at home in the 2022 regular season went up against a team that had traveled 1508.01 miles on average. Compare this to the away win at just 1272.05 We can see that less travel on the road can lead to success on enemy territory – a draw is just 20 miles more.

These results are rather logical when you come to think of it. If a team has to work harder in terms of travel, their ability to earn three points on another team’s turf will be diminished. Less travel and the away side are going to be fresher in their pursuit of victory.

Kick Off Times

Now that we know that teams that are traveling the most have a 40% chance of coming out on top, and you have to travel less on average to get an away win, we can now see what effect the kickoff time also has. 

As mentioned at the start of the article, the 2023 MLS season is the first to have standardized kick-off times – a decision helped by signing a big-money TV deal with Apple and the ability to stream the fixtures on one platform.

Whereas in 2022, there were as many as 20 different kick-off slots, and now we are going to analyze the results in each: 

It is certainly a disjointed picture, but this is to be expected with so many different options therefore, the best way to look at this data is by listing the kick-off times in terms of frequency and then working backward:

As we can see, the 19:30 kick time was represented on 157 separate occasions, and of these, just over half saw home wins. Eighty, to be precise, and this meant that 50.96% of these games saw the hosts come out on top. 

However, just 30 minutes prior, the picture is slightly different. Home advantage is still vitally important, but it seems like the top of the hour offers a glimmer of hope to those visiting for the day.

Whereas, at 19:00, a home win was only recorded on 46 out of 99 occasions. Still the most dominant outcome at 46.46% but not as dominant as just half an hour later. A muddy picture in the 21st hour of the day, things get even more distorted at the start of the 22nd.

Because at 20:00, either team has no benefit regarding the kickoff time. Almost a clean split between the 45 MLS fixtures that were played at this time. Fifteen home wins, 14 away wins, and 16 draws. Swap one of the latter for the middle category, which would be 33.33% each.

Almost but not quite, but enough for visiting teams playing at 20:00 to know that maybe the effects of travel have burnt off by this point, and now they are in a better position to return to their own home base with a win. 

With so many different kick-off times to analyze, it may be that the analytical angle is lost to a certain degree. Therefore, a better way to perhaps measure the effect of when the game is contested is by bunching them together into three subgroups:

  • EARLY – 12:00 to 14:30
  • AFTERNOON – 15:00 to 18:00
  • LATE – 18:30 to 22:00

By grouping into three subsets, the analytical picture becomes much clearer. Last season the MLS regular season matches played in the early bracket saw 52.54% of the 59 encounters won by the home team.

Move into the afternoon bracket, and the figure drops to 49.04% out of 104. While a look in the late bracket of kick-off times, we see a further decrease to 47.92% out of 313 - a difference of 4.62% when compared to their early counterparts.

While the logic offered here is that the advantage would lie with the hosts when playing earlier in the day. The reason is that the team that has traveled a substantial distance is likely to still feel the fatigue of such a jaunt, and this is where the hosts can capitalize.

Of course, with such vast amounts of distance to be covered, the away MLS teams are not traveling on the same day. However, it does seem as if there is certainly mileage to the effects of covering an incredible amount of it.

To build on this, we can see that the later in the day, the less balance is tipped towards the home team. Admittedly there is still nearly a 1 in 2 chance of the hosts earning maximum points, but it seems the visitors can fare better later in the day. 

Another way we can look at this is by seeing the percentage chance of the hosts not losing by each subgroup: 

Once again, there is a cascade from earlier in the day to the end. If an MLS fixture took place in the early bracket of time, the hosts would earn at least a point in 76.27% of the 59 contested matches. 

There is not a great deal of difference when it comes to the afternoon bracket as the 104 matches saw the hosts earn a point in 75.96% and the 313 in the late saw just 72.20% - but a greater sample and more games could also explain this to influence the overall outcomes. 

Another angle to look at is how many miles are needed for each outcome in each time subgroup:

Here we can see that the visiting team has to travel an average of 1.560 miles for the hosts to win an early kick-off. This is just 18 miles more than when played later in the day but 184 more when compared to the afternoon.

The picture is much more varied when we look at the miles traveled for a draw. You must be prepared to put the miles in to get an early share of the points. As many as 1,857 were required last season. 

However, should you aim for a share of the points later in the day, the average miles for the visitors drops to 1,243, and it drops another 37 when those MLS fixtures were played from 18:30 onwards. 

Once again, there is slightly less distance required if a team wins on the road, and the later you can play, the figure only tumbles further. Away wins in the early time group cost an average of 1,448 miles each.

Some 160 miles more than when a fixture is played in the late bracket; by comparison, an away team playing in the afternoon can put their feet up. A win for the visitors in this time block only costs 1,119 by comparison, and although it is slightly lesser in the distance, it will still be as hard fought.

Methodology

Distance data are taken from Google

Kickoff data are taken from FBRef - https://fbref.com/en/comps/22/Major-League-Soccer-Stats

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