The Road to the Eastern Conference Championship

Ever since the 2012 Major League Soccer schedule was released early this year, it was evident D.C. United would play a lot of games early, and that a lot of those games would be played at RFK Stadium. To D.C. United's credit, they have gained the top spot in the Eastern Conference despite this compressed, but home-friendly, schedule.

Team Points Games Played Avg Pts/Game Home Games Played
D.C. United 33 18 1.83 10
New York RB 31 17 1.82 7
Sporting KC 29 16 1.81 8
Chicago Fire 27 16 1.69 8
Houston Dynamo 23 16 1.44 6
Columbus Crew 22 15 1.47 7
New England Revs 19 16 1.19 8
Montreal Impact 18 18 1.00 8
Philadelphia Union 11 14 0.79 7
Toronto FC 9 15 0.60 8

For the rest of the season, United will be on the road more often than at home. What does this mean if D.C. United and the rest of the Eastern Conference stay on current form?

It's no surprise that most MLS teams perform much better at home than on the road (Chivas USA being the glaring exception to the rule this season). The same is true for D.C.. This year, United has averaged 2.30 points at home, and 1.25 points on the road. In fact, here is how the entire conference stacks up:

Team Home Games Played Points from Home Games Avg Pts/Home Game Away Games Played Points from Away Games Avg Pts/Away Game
D.C. United 10 23 2.30 8 10 1.25
New York RB 7 17 2.43 10 14 1.40
Sporting KC 8 18 2.25 8 11 1.38
Chicago Fire 8 17 2.13 8 10 1.25
Houston Dynamo 6 14 2.33 10 9 0.90
Columbus Crew 7 13 1.86 8 9 1.13
New England Revs 8 15 1.88 8 4 0.50
Montreal Impact 8 14 1.75 10 4 0.40
Philadelphia Union 7 7 1.00 7 4 0.57
Toronto FC 8 5 0.63 7 4 0.57

With due consideration to the old saying about lies, damned lies, and statistics, if we project the current averages over the remaining home and away games for each team in the Eastern Conference, we get the following table showing the weighted point projection:

Team Current Points Home Games Remaining Avg Pts/ Home Game Away Games Remaining Avg Pts/ Away Game Weighted Point Projection
D.C. United 33 7 2.30 9 1.25 60
New York RB 31 10 2.43 7 1.40 65
Sporting KC 29 9 2.25 9 1.38 62
Chicago Fire 27 9 2.13 9 1.25 57
Houston Dynamo 23 11 2.33 7 0.90 55
Columbus Crew 22 10 1.86 9 1.13 51
New England Revs 19 9 1.88 9 0.50 40
Montreal Impact 18 9 1.75 7 0.40 37
Philadelphia Union 11 10 1.00 10 0.57 27
Toronto FC 9 9 0.63 10 0.57 20

This view of the table indicates what is obviously true: New York Red Bulls have played well at home this season, and they will have a lot more opportunities to pile up home points in the second half of the season. They still have some remaining tough home matches, however, such as against the Seattle Sounders (are they ever going to rebound to expected form?), Chicago Fire (twice), Houston Dynamo, and Sporting KC (twice).

Likewise, on average, Sporting KC should also profit from having 9 remaining home games. Their home matches that appear particularly tough include Houston Dynamo (twice), D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, and Chicago Fire.

Two teams that are surprisingly close to D.C. United in the weighted point projections are the Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo. Chicago has proven how a three game winning streak can make everything look better, and if (big if) they can win on the road at Houston Dynamo and then at home against the LA Galaxy over their next two matches, they will be exactly where D.C. United is today--on 33 points after 18 games.

Houston has impressively managed to stay in contention despite playing so few home games in the first half of the season (due to the delayed opening of their new stadium). Playing 11 home games over the remainder of the season certainly plays in their favor since they are the worst road team of all the Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

For D.C. United, their road to the Eastern Championship (and perhaps a Supporters' Shield) involves continuing to pile up points at home while improving their point output on the road. Tough remaining home matches include Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, while road matches against the Columbus Crew, Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, and Toronto FC look like real opportunities to steal valuable points on the road. Even with a notable road match at Real Salt Lake, I think their schedule sets up well to stay atop the Eastern Conference if they can grind out a few more results on the road.

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