The Dead Cat Bounce

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In big MLS news, Toronto’s manager Ryan Nelsen was fired a few days ago. He has been the second man sacked this year behind our own John Hackworth. Unfortunately for the Union, we play Toronto in our next two games. Why unfortunately? The dead cat bounce effect is another added challenge in a critical stretch for this team.

The Dead Cat Bounce

It goes by several names – The Honeymoon Period, the New Manager Effect, etc. Personally, I like calling it the Dead Cat Bounce for poetic effect. What is it exactly? When a manager is fired and replaced, his team tends to perform above their usual level. Think of it like a dead cat dropped off a ledge. It bounces when it hits the ground. If you want a more detailed analysis, I recommend this article.

Reports out of Toronto have been suggesting he was very unpopular with the players. Considering the talent available to him, Toronto has certainly underperformed this year. A new boss is a new start. Players tend to overachieve immediately after a new hiring. Toronto is likely to see a short-term uptick in form.

Look at the Union. With virtually the same team as Hackworth, Curtin’s side has vastly outplayed his predecessor. Curtin lit a fire in this team simply by moving some players’ spots, giving a few fringe players a shot, and providing a different type of leadership.

Why then do I refer to it as a bounce? The new manager effect is much more short-term than long-term. If you average out form over half a season or so, the change in form is pretty much negligible as the team returns to their mean. So while a team with a new manager in the Premier League averages around 2.5 points a game, the results start to fade after the first 12 or so games. The cat returns to the ground.

In other words, look back at when Hackworth was hired. His first few games were splendid, including a thrashing of Sporting at KC. As the season continued, the team returned to their mean, producing dire results as the year ended. Hackworth never returned to the same level of success from when he was first hired.

What does this mean for the Union?

A Nelsen-led Toronto was a much easier opponent. With a new man at the helm, the Union will have a much more difficult opponent. This is a critical stretch for the Union playoff push. A newly enthused Toronto throws a wrench into this push. I’ll break it down further:

  1. New tactics: None of us know how Greg Vanney is going to line his team up. Unfortunately, we are his very first opponents. When you have no tape on your opponent, it is very difficult to gameplan around them. With two back-to-back games, we have little time to assess the first game before the second game.
  2. Fired up players: For fringe or squad players, this firing means an audition to convince the new guy that they deserve to be part of his plans going forward. Several players will be fighting for their spot over the next few games. Hungry wolves are far more dangerous than those who know their place.
  3. Fired up fans: Many people forget this, but Toronto ushered in the massive MLS fan culture years before Seattle entered the league. Years of mediocrity and down right piss poor play have tempered their enthusiasm. A new look Toronto side could be enough to ignite the crowd, giving Toronto a more dangerous home field advantage.

If you spoke to me last week, I would have said we could won both games. Now, I will be happy for 4 points, but I wouldn’t be surprised by 3. As a Philly sports fan, cautious optimism is the name of the game.

How do you think the dead cat bounce will affect us against Toronto?

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