What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
There exists among many of us a certain perception that we, as a side, are not as successful when the Rio Tinto does that thing we all wanted to avoid as teenagers and sells out. I've always found it a little bit, well, wide of the mark, because I am inclined to think there are other factors involved than merely crowd size.
So it was away to the stats I went, looking to rescue the truth from rows and columns of numbers and data. You know — the fun stuff. I'm constantly looking for explanations in statistics, sometimes without success, but more often with perceived (incorrectly) success. Unqualified success is hard to come by, especially if you understand my tendency to muddy the waters a bit. Ah, well. What can one do?
It was important, first, to take a historical accounting of our side's home matches, looking at results, attendance and more. It is also important to take into consideration that the season is far from over — we're at a comfortable halfway point, really, but I'm going to carefully draw some conclusions anyway.
Because attendance on its own is noteworthy, let's go there first. This season, we're averaging 18,603 tickets sold. (Yes, yes, I know we can't really count attendance, or at least those are not the numbers produced, but I don't think a significant number of people are buying tickets and not attending matches. Still, a caveat seems necessary.) Our minimum is 16,444, while our maximum — certainly sold out, and one of a few to do so — is 20,415. This is undoubtedly a good thing. In fact, the atmosphere seems to have improved this season, and it is quite possibly a direct result of that.
2012 attendance is up 5 percent over 2011 numbers — and a nice 13 percent over 2009 numbers, when we had our first full season at The Place. (Yes, with a capital T. You know, to bring in some Utah culture.) While other clubs across the country might see more staggering jumps (I'm not certain on this, actually), we started out reasonably well. Indeed, seven clubs are averaging fewer tickets — and that's in 2012. Our least-attended match this season — our last home match, actually, against Portland Timbers — is above the average attendances of those seven clubs. It's a shame, really.
Inquiring minds want to know, though: How have we done when we've brought in more people? Despite my complaints that thinking we did less well when we had greater attendance was wide of the mark, there's some truth to it. In matches where we've brought 20,000 or more in attendance, we've gained four points — a win and a draw, or a point a match. Now, I don't think it's a result of the attendance, but it is a little strange. But let's look at our opponents.
Visiting teams to the Rio Tinto this season have, to this point in the season, averaged 25.82 points. When we have at least 20,000 in attendance, the average points is just above that — 26.25. But they've been big names, and that number would be higher if the LA Galaxy hadn't played shockingly badly at times this season. On average, opponents who attract fewer than 20,000 fans have 24 points to this point in the season. It's a little surprising that the averages are all so close together, but it's early days yet, and we're in an uneven schedule. This will screw with some of the perceptions.
But while we have had lower attendances on average for wins than for losses, I'm not ready to write our side off when a big crowd shows up. Attendance is well within two standard deviations of the median, and I don't think there's any real reason to fear there.
It stands to reason, though, that we haven't been good enough at home. We're averaging a goal conceded a game — one. It's more than we've given away since moving to the RioT — our 2010 season with less than half a goal conceded a game standing out. In addition, we're scoring fewer goals a game than we did that season — 1.73 a game, as compared to 2.07 a game.
Now, it's not all doom and gloom. Despite those numbers. we're averaging two points per game at home, which isn't a terrible effort. Our away results have been slightly better, and we're averaging 1.4 points a match, better than we've done since the move. For illustration: 2009, 0.53 PPG away; 2010, 1.27 PPG away; 2011, 1.12 PPG away. It's not all bad.
Additionally, we're drawing a lower percentage of our home matches: We've drawn 9 percent (one) of our home matches in 2012; 2009, 33%; 2010, 27%; 2011, 23%. Barring our excellent 2010 season, we've won a higher percentage of our matches, too.
And here's where I backtrack a little, though uncommittedly: What if we're simply trying to draw fewer matches at home? It's not unfathomable. We shut up shop less frequently, and that's hurt us — most notably against LA in the 3-2 shocker, but also against San Jose recently. Are we simply less capable of shutting up shop? I don't know — it's really quite hard to say. Injuries have taken their toll, quite obviously.
We've managed to be one of the best sides to this point — we're in third overall, but only behind Sporting KC on goal difference — and we've still got a long way to go this season. If injuries clear up and everything continues according to plan, it's hard not to see us doing well. But it's worth considering, too, that we've got the CONCACAF Champions League coming up, and that will certainly take priority.
But where do the conclusions go? I can't much disprove the notion that we perform less well when we sell out, but I don't see any compelling evidence to say that we do. If, come the end of the season, the trend continues, perhaps we will have more evidence. Until then, I will point toward our wavering home form in general and our increased attendances across the board.
After all, we've never hit more than 20,000 four matches in a season before now — three in 2011, one in 2010 to this point, although we've coming frighteningly close at times. I would naturally expect our home form to spread across those matches. It would seem it has — there are no statistical outliers to be found. More matches will provide a greater sample size, though, and that will play into our standard deviation, so we will have considerably more evidence as things move forward.