MLS results map: re-visualizing the visualization

The MLS regular season is winding down. Playoffs are on the horizon. Perhaps to celebrate this fact, the league’s official web site has launched a visual way of looking at a team’s results, dubbed The Results Map.

Like a modern 4-3-3 formation, a grid-based map such as this one great concept, but one that requires a lot of work on execution for it to be effective. And while I like what the league was going for here, there are a few simple tweaks that would make an already nice graphic a bit more effective. I took it upon myself to enact one of them.

Here is how the MLS Results Map looks at the time of this writing (10/2/12):

The big advantage of having a color-coded results map like this is that a reader can easily identify trends – not just within individual rows (the X axis), but amongst the rows’ relationship with the columns (the Y axis). For example: In a well-contextualized results map like this, that cluster of green “W”s at the bottom left corner might actually mean something. But it doesn’t. Why? Because the Y axis (the teams) doesn’t provide the kind of context the X axis (the game results) begs for. The teams are arranged alphabetically, and this simple decision holds the map back a great deal.

To a degree, I understand why MLS would arrange the visualization this way. The button on the front of their site indicates that the map visualizes team trends, not those of the league or the season in general. However, I for one would like more context. So I opened up the page’s source code, copied it into my text editor, and made exactly 19 edits.

The end result (with the help of Firebug) looks like this:

What changed? Instead of arranging the teams alphabetically, they are now arranged according to their position in the table. The league-leading San Jose Earthquakes are on top, while Toronto FC’s abysmal season places them last. The results you see on the X axis now have a real, visual impact on the Y axis. All of a sudden, a world of information can be gleaned.

What are the common characteristics of teams in the top 5? Most had very good starts.

Why are the Earthquakes on top? Because while every other team pulls off 4-5 game runs, they win consistently, and never lose consecutive games.

What information do you see in this new map that you couldn’t see before?