"In D.C. United and Ben Olsen We Trust; All Others Must Bring Data"

Ned Dishman

This gross corruption of a famous W. Edwards Deming quote is calling out all you dissatisfied D.C. United fans. Yes, it's your right to complain, but now let's see your facts that lead to your opinions. Here are the facts that inform mine.

This year's D.C. United campaign has been remarkable on many levels. But let's talk about the dissatisfaction so many D.C. United fans seem to have with the team, the coach, and certain players, despite facts that point to this having been an unbelievably successful season. Sure, it's any fan's right to have any opinion they want about a team; that's not in question. In fact, we invite and implore that you post your opinions here on Black and Red United using a FanPost or comment. But now, with one game left in the regular season, it's time to see your facts.

Perhaps as a soccer fan, I could compare D.C. United to the Spanish National Team, Barcelona FC, or Chelsea FC as my measure for whether D.C. United has been successful or is playing well. But I personally can't and won't do that because D.C. United is a Major League Soccer team, and must compete with all the constraints that brings in a salary-cap driven system. So, using MLS statistics as my measure, this is my opening argument for choosing to believe in D.C. United and Coach Ben Olsen unreservedly at this point in the season--they've earned it. I look forward to reading the other side of the argument equally infused by facts.

1. D.C. United sits third in the overall league table. In my opinion, there are two teams in MLS that have earned the term "elite" over the course of the season--the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City. As of this week, these are the only two teams ahead of D.C. United in the overall league table. Even yet, there is a scenario by which D.C. United can tie Sporting on points and beat them in a tie breaker to win the Eastern Conference this year. Yes, it is improbable, but the fact D.C. United is in this position is a testament to the excellent season they've had.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game
San Jose Earthquakes 65 33 1.97
Sporting Kansas City 60 33 1.82
D.C. United 57 33 1.73
Seattle Sounders 56 33 1.70
Real Salt Lake 56 33 1.70
Chicago Fire 56 33 1.70
New York Red Bulls 54 33 1.64
Houston Dynamo 53 33 1.61
LA Galaxy 51 33 1.55
Columbus Crew 49 33 1.48
Montreal Impact 42 33 1.27
Vancouver Whitecaps 42 33 1.27
FC Dallas 38 33 1.15
Philadelphia Union 36 32 1.13
Colorado Rapids 34 33 1.03
Portland Timbers 33 33 1.00
New England Revolution 32 33 0.97
Chivas USA 29 33 0.88
Toronto FC 23 33 0.70

2. D.C. United has MLS's best home record for this season. No matter what happens the final week of the season, D.C. United will finish the season having earned the most points of any team in the league at home. Take back RFK? Indeed!

Team Home Wins Home Losses Home Draws Home Points
D.C. United 12 1 4 40
Houston Dynamo 11 0 6 39
New York Red Bulls 11 2 4 37
San Jose Earthquakes 10 1 6 36
Chicago Fire 11 3 2 35
Seattle Sounders 11 4 2 35
Real Salt Lake 11 4 1 34
Columbus Crew 10 3 3 33
Montreal Impact 10 3 3 33
Sporting Kansas City 9 3 4 31
Vancouver Whitecaps 8 3 6 30
LA Galaxy 9 6 1 28
New England Revolution 7 4 6 27
Portland Timbers 7 4 5 26
FC Dallas 6 3 7 25
Colorado Rapids 7 6 3 24
Philadelphia Union 7 7 2 23
Toronto FC 3 9 5 14
Chivas USA 3 11 3 12

3. D.C. United met expectations on the road. I've said it before, but D.C. United has done the minimum required this year on the road to be considered a quality team. The old mantra says win at home, and draw on the road. With Saturday's game at the Chicago Fire left to play, that's exactly what D.C. United has done by scoring 17 points on the road this season. Would I like to see them do better on the road next season? Absolutely, and if D.C. United wants to become an elite team next year, then getting more points on the road is a requirement.

Team Away Wins Away Losses Away Draws Away Points
San Jose Earthquakes 9 5 2 29
Sporting Kansas City 8 4 5 29
LA Galaxy 6 6 5 23
Real Salt Lake 6 7 4 22
Chicago Fire 6 8 3 21
Seattle Sounders 4 3 9 21
Chivas USA 4 7 5 17
D.C. United 5 9 2 17
New York Red Bulls 4 7 5 17
Columbus Crew 4 9 4 16
Houston Dynamo 3 8 5 14
FC Dallas 3 10 4 13
Philadelphia Union 3 9 4 13
Vancouver Whitecaps 3 10 3 12
Colorado Rapids 3 13 1 10
Montreal Impact 2 12 3 9
Toronto FC 2 11 3 9
Portland Timbers 1 12 4 7
New England Revolution 1 13 2 5

4. D.C. United currently has a top four MLS offense. The ultimate measure of a team's offense is goals scored. Across the entire season, D.C. United has scored the fourth most goals of any team in the league. The San Jose Earthquakes have truly been the class of the league offensively by a wide margin, but D.C. United leads all other teams except the LA Galaxy (whose payroll is 3x that of D.C. United) and the New York Red Bulls (payroll 4x that of D.C. United).

Team Goals
San Jose Earthquakes 71
LA Galaxy 58
New York Red Bulls 54
D.C. United 52
Seattle Sounders 51
Houston Dynamo 48
Real Salt Lake 46
Chicago Fire 45
Montreal Impact 45
Columbus Crew 42
Colorado Rapids 42
Sporting Kansas City 40
FC Dallas 40
New England Revolution 38
Philadelphia Union 36
Toronto FC 35
Vancouver Whitecaps 35
Portland Timbers 33
Chivas USA 22

5. D.C. United has a defense just in the top half of the league. If a defense is ultimately measured by the number of goals it gives up in a season, then D.C. United's defense is slightly above average. Currently tied with San Jose as the eighth best defense in MLS, D.C. United has given up 42 goals as compared to a league average 43.8 goals. Yet, over their current six-game unbeaten streak, it has been the defense that has largely carried the load. For next year, however, this is one area in which D.C. United can make improvements to move toward elite status.

Team Goals Against
Sporting Kansas City 26
Seattle Sounders 32
Real Salt Lake 35
Houston Dynamo 39
Chicago Fire 40
Philadelphia Union 40
Vancouver Whitecaps 41
D.C. United 42
San Jose Earthquakes 42
Columbus Crew 43
New England Revolution 44
FC Dallas 45
New York Red Bulls 46
LA Galaxy 47
Colorado Rapids 50
Montreal Impact 50
Portland Timbers 55
Chivas USA 56
Toronto FC 60

6. Bill Hamid is a top three MLS goalkeeper. When all else fails, D.C. United has a superb young goalkeeper between the posts. If measuring "saves percentage," Hamid is second (76.9%) to only Michael Gspurning of the Seattle Sounders (77.1%). If using goals conceded per game as your favored measuring stick, Hamid is third (1.04 goals/game) behind Gspurning (0.70) and Jimmy Nielsen of Sporting Kansas City (0.79 goals/game).

7. D.C. United is one of only five teams with two unbeaten streaks of at least six matches this season. Unbeaten streaks are tough in this league for a number of reasons. First, the structure of MLS means there is a lot of parity among the teams (one of MLS's best qualities in my opinion), which makes getting consecutive results over several games difficult. Second, the home field advantage is so pronounced in MLS that avoiding a loss on the road is very hard. Put together, it's a challenge for any team to sustain an unbeaten streak of more than a few games. Among all of the 19 teams in MLS, in fact, there have only been 14 unbeaten streaks of six games or more--and D.C. United has two of them.

Team Unbeaten Streak # of Wins First Game Last Game
Columbus Crew 6 3 5-May 16-Jun
Columbus Crew 6 4 15-Aug 1-Sep
D.C. United 7 4 24-Mar 28-Apr
D.C. United 6* 5 15-Sep Ongoing
Houston Dynamo 8 6 30-Jun 3-Aug
LA Galaxy 7 5 12-Aug 30-Sep
New York Red Bulls 6 5 28-Apr 23-May
Real Salt Lake 7 5 25-Apr 16-Jun
San Jose Earthquakes 7 6 24-Mar 2-May
San Jose Earthquakes 8* 5 25-Aug Ongoing
Seattle Sounders 6 5 7-Apr 9-May
Seattle Sounders 6 3 30-Jun 5-Aug
Sporting Kansas City 7 7 10-Mar 18-Apr
Sporting Kansas City 11* 6 4-Aug Ongoing

*Active streak

8. The D.C. United front office is getting value for the dollars they are investing in players. Overall, D.C. United has the 10th highest payroll in MLS, yet they sit third overall in the league table, and fifth in "salary dollars per point" (the lower this figure, the more value a team is getting from its total player payroll). Ultimately, soccer is about wins, losses, and points, and D.C. United is getting good value from the dollars they are spending on players. Contrast that with Toronto who has the 3rd highest payroll in the league, yet sits dead last by a wide margin in the overall league table. Plus, D.C. United has had to play six games here at the end of the season without their best player and Captain, Dwayne De Rosario. Even with Hamdi Salihi not being a starter, which means his Designated Player salary spends a lot of time on the bench, D.C. United is still getting very good value out of their team.

Team Total Points 2012 Team Salary Dollars/Pt
San Jose Earthquakes 65 $3,174,895 $48,845
Sporting Kansas City 60 $3,226,599 $53,777
Houston Dynamo 53 $3,294,091 $62,153
Real Salt Lake 56 $3,581,445 $63,954
D.C. United 57 $4,050,726 $71,065
Chicago Fire 56 $4,145,876 $74,034
Seattle Sounders 56 $4,224,310 $75,434
Columbus Crew 49 $3,717,509 $75,868
New England Revolution 32 $2,639,981 $82,499
Philadelphia Union 36 $3,356,310 $93,231
Colorado Rapids 34 $3,381,885 $99,467
Montreal Impact 42 $4,751,369 $113,128
Chivas USA 29 $3,572,341 $123,184
Vancouver Whitecaps 42 $5,216,754 $124,208
Portland Timbers 33 $4,505,210 $136,522
FC Dallas 38 $5,286,674 $139,123
LA Galaxy 51 $12,718,531 $249,383
New York Red Bulls 54 $16,728,107 $309,780
Toronto FC 23 $7,446,623 $323,766

9. Since Ben Olsen became the head coach, the team has been on an upward trajectory. Ben Olsen's first game as D.C. United's head coach was on Aug. 7, 2010. Since that time, the team has had a steady, and significant, improvement each year. Below is the average number of points per game since Ben Olsen became head coach. The question is, what will Ben Olsen and D.C. United do next season to continue this improvement?

- 2010: 0.83 pts/game (10 points in 12 games under Olsen)

- 2011: 1.15 pts/game (39 points in 34 games)

- 2012: 1.73 pts/game (57 points in 33 games)

10. D.C. United set a franchise goal this year to make the playoffs, and they've done it. As well as I think they've performed this year, however, there are no guarantees in the playoffs. But, what team in MLS does have a guarantee in the playoffs? Sure, the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City will be the favorites to reach the 2012 MLS Cup, but will anyone be surprised if either or both of these teams get upset in the playoffs? Again, with parity and home field advantage, no team is a sure bet in a two-game, aggregate-goal series. Similarly, who will face D.C. United in the Eastern Conference playoffs and be a favorite other than Sporting (and they've had some mystifying losses at home this season)?

These are the facts that lead me to believe Ben Olsen and this team know what they're doing. It might not always be pretty, but it's been effective. And compared to the rest of Major League Soccer, it has truly been a remarkable season for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in the last four years. In fact, this season has been so good that they've put a lot of pressure on themselves for next season to continue the improvement and move into the elite level of this league once again. Because, after their success this year, what else is left to do than to become an elite team favored to win a trophy?

There you go. If you are dissatisfied with this team, this coach, or their results this year, let's see your facts and have the debate. Vamos United!

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