Though our game states data set doesn’t yet include all of 2013, it still includes 137 games. In those 137 games, only five home teams ever went down three goals, and all five teams lost. There were 24 games in which the home team went down two goals, with only one winner (4.2%) and five ties (20.8%). The sample of two-goal games perhaps gives a little hope to the Timbers, but these small sample sizes lend themselves to large margins of error.
It is also important to note that teams that go down two goals at home tend to be bad teams—like Chivas USA, which litters that particular data set. None of the five teams that ever went down three goals at home made the playoffs this year. Only seven of the 24 teams to go down two goals at home made it to the playoffs. Portland is a good team. Depending on your model of preference, the Timbers are somewhere in the top eight. So even if those probabilities up there hypothetically had small margins of error, they still wouldn’t necessarily apply to the Timbers.
Oh, and while we’re talking about extra variables, in those games the teams had less time to come back. To work around these confounding variables, I consulted a couple models, and I controlled for team ability using our expected goal differential. Here’s what I found.
A logistic model suggests that, for each goal of deficit early in a match, the odds of winning are reduced by a factor of about two or three. A tie, though, would also allow Portland to play on. A home team’s chances winning or tying fall from about 75 percent in a typical game that begins zero-zero, to about 25 percent being down two goals. Down three goals, and that probability plummets to less than 10 percent. But using this particular logistic regression was dangerous, as I was forced to extrapolate for situations that never happen during the regular season—starting a game from behind.
So I went to a linear model. The linear model expects Portland to win by about 0.4 goals. 15.5 percent of home teams in our model were able to perform at least 1.6 goals above expectation, what the Timbers would need to at least force a draw in regulation. Only 4.6 percent of teams performed 2.6 goals above expectation. If we just compromise between what the two models are telling us, then the Timbers probably have about a 20-percent chance to pull off a draw in regulation. That probability would have been closer to five percent had Piquionne not finished a beautiful header in stoppage time.