Setting the Stage for May: D.C. United's Competition Really Starts to Get Tough

BMac and the team seek to right the ship despite tougher competition in May. - USA TODAY Sports

Let's get ready for the third month of the 2013 MLS season. We'll see who won the month of April, and what the current MLS standings look like. On paper, we'll also see how May looks to bring great teams to RFK Stadium, but it may not shape up to be so fantastic for D.C. United.

The month of April was a nightmare for D.C. United and its fans. Coming on top of a lackluster March performance, two of the regular season's eight months have now passed and D.C. United is in last place among the league's 19 teams. While we hope D.C. United will turn things around during the month of May, if they do, it will happen against a very tough schedule and defy all expectations we could reasonably have at this point. Before we dive into that tough schedule, however, let's review what happened across MLS during the month of April.

1. April's MLS Results. So, who was the best team during April? Well, if you picked the Portland Timbers on April Fool's Day, no one would have believed you, but you would have been right. Whether looking at total points accumulated during the month, or average points per game earned during April, Portland was April's top team.

The table below shows the results for all MLS teams during April, and it is sorted by average points per game. I think this stat is a better indicator of how teams actually performed during April as compared to total points since two teams (Montreal and Seattle) only played two games during the month, while New York played five and the remaining teams played either three or four.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game Wins Losses Draws
Portland Timbers 10 4 2.50 3 0 1
FC Dallas 8 4 2.00 2 0 2
LA Galaxy 6 3 2.00 2 1 0
Montreal Impact 4 2 2.00 1 0 1
Seattle Sounders 4 2 2.00 1 0 1
New York Red Bulls 9 5 1.80 3 2 0
Colorado Rapids 7 4 1.75 2 1 1
Chicago Fire 6 4 1.50 2 2 0
Sporting Kansas City 6 4 1.50 2 2 0
New England Revolution 4 3 1.33 1 1 1
Columbus Crew 5 4 1.25 1 1 2
Philadelphia Union 5 4 1.25 1 1 2
Houston Dynamo 5 4 1.25 1 1 2
Real Salt Lake 4 4 1.00 1 2 1
Toronto FC 3 4 0.75 0 1 3
San Jose Earthquakes 3 4 0.75 0 1 3
Vancouver Whitecaps 3 4 0.75 0 1 3
Chivas USA 1 3 0.33 0 2 1
D.C. United 0 4 0.00 0 4 0

a. Surprise teams in April. Portland would be the most surprising team (see above), but the New York Red Bulls were the only team to play five games during the month of April (after playing five in March as well), and they played three of those games on the road. Despite this difficult schedule, they managed to secure three wins.

b. Disappointing teams in April. Clearly, D.C. United had a dismal month, going 0-for-April, and is the most disappointing (and disappointed) team of the month. Houston also won't be happy, getting only five points out of four games. Finally, Toronto had a chance to make a move in the Eastern Conference with three of their four games at home during April, but they were only able to secure three points.

2. Current MLS Supporters' Shields Standings. We're only about a quarter of the way through the MLS season, but clearly FC Dallas, the Montreal Impact, and the LA Galaxy are the class of the league so far. At the other end of the table, eight teams haven't won more than two games, while fully thirteen teams haven't won more than three games.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game Wins Losses Draws Goals Goal Differential
FC Dallas 20 9 2.22 6 1 2 15 6
Montreal Impact 16 7 2.29 5 1 1 9 4
New York Red Bulls 14 10 1.40 4 4 2 15 2
LA Galaxy 14 7 2.00 4 1 2 12 8
Houston Dynamo 14 8 1.75 4 2 2 12 3
Sporting Kansas City 14 9 1.56 4 3 2 10 2
Portland Timbers 13 8 1.63 3 1 4 14 3
Columbus Crew 12 8 1.50 3 2 3 12 5
Chivas USA 11 8 1.38 3 3 2 12 1
Philadelphia Union 11 8 1.38 3 3 2 10 -2
Real Salt Lake 11 9 1.22 3 4 2 7 -2
San Jose Earthquakes 10 9 1.11 2 3 4 8 -3
Vancouver Whitecaps 9 8 1.13 2 3 3 9 -2
Colorado Rapids 9 9 1.00 2 4 3 7 -2
New England Revolution 8 7 1.14 2 3 2 4 -2
Chicago Fire 7 8 0.88 2 5 1 6 -8
Toronto FC 7 8 0.88 1 3 4 10 -2
Seattle Sounders 5 6 0.83 1 3 2 3 -2
D.C. United 4 8 0.50 1 6 1 4 -9

3. Current MLS Eastern Conference Standings. In the all-important race for the five playoff slots in the Eastern Conference, Montreal, New York, Houston, Sporting, and Columbus currently lead the pack. One sign of the incredible challenge D.C. United is facing as it tries to climb into a playoff spot during the remainder of the season is that the Red-and-Black have already spotted 15 points to #1 Montreal and 8 points to #5 Columbus on "potential points" (the absolute maximum points a team could earn if they won all their remaining games).

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game Wins Losses Draws Potential Points
Montreal Impact 16 7 2.29 5 1 1 97
New York Red Bulls 14 10 1.40 4 4 2 86
Houston Dynamo 14 8 1.75 4 2 2 92
Sporting Kansas City 14 9 1.56 4 3 2 89
Columbus Crew 12 8 1.50 3 2 3 90
Philadelphia Union 11 8 1.38 3 3 2 89
New England Revolution 8 7 1.14 2 3 2 89
Chicago Fire 7 8 0.88 2 5 1 85
Toronto FC 7 8 0.88 1 3 4 85
D.C. United 4 8 0.50 1 6 1 82

4. Current MLS Attendance Table. Two months into the 2013 season, average MLS attendance is 17,377. That's 7.6% less than the average MLS attendance for all of 2012, which was 18,807. There are lots of dynamics that could explain this decline early in the season (e.g. Seattle has only played three home games so far, San Jose has yet to play any of their special games in bigger venues, etc..), so the decline may not be permanent as the season wears on. But, in a season in which the league's top attendance magnet, David Beckham, is now plying his wares in France, we'll keep a close eye out for whether MLS is suffering a lasting attendance decline this season. Here's the current regular season attendance table:

Team Games Played 2013 Average
Seattle Sounders 3 39,157
Montreal Impact 4 25,128
LA Galaxy 4 21,271
Portland Timbers 4 20,674
Vancouver Whitecaps 4 19,414
Sporting Kansas City 4 19,413
Toronto FC 5 19,288
Houston Dynamo 5 18,529
Real Salt Lake 4 18,321
New York Red Bulls 4 17,053
Philadelphia Union 3 17,010
FC Dallas 5 15,937
D.C. United 4 14,619
Columbus Crew 3 13,637
New England Revolution 3 13,627
Colorado Rapids 4 13,546
Chicago Fire 4 12,084
San Jose Earthquakes 5 10,525
Chivas USA 5 8,045

After four home games in the 2013 season, D.C. United's average home attendance is 14,619, which is about 5.6% better than their 2012 regular season average of 13,846. That puts the team at 13th overall in league attendance for 2013 after two months, which is several positions better than 2012 when they finished 17th in regular season attendance. Interestingly, after four games in 2012, D.C. United's average home attendance was 13,817, almost the identical average attendance that D.C. United ended up finishing the 2012 regular season with (13,846).

Whether D.C. United ends 2013 at or near 14,619 (their current attendance average after four games) remains to be seen, but May will be a telling month for D.C. United attendance, with one Wednesday night game, one Sunday afternoon game, and one Saturday night game. Listed below are D.C. United's 2012 average attendance figures for games played on those day's of the week:

- Wednesday: 10,581 (in 2013, D.C. United has not yet played any Wednesday night games at home)

- Sunday: 12,448 (in 2013, D.C. United has played one Sunday game at RFK, drawing 12,349 on Apr. 21st versus Philadelphia)

- Saturday: 15,839 (in 2013, D.C. United has averaged 15,375 for its first three Saturday home games)

5. May's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. The first thing that jumps off the page when looking at the Eastern Conference's May schedule (below) is that mid-week games are back. After having only one mid-week game in the entire league during March and April, MLS will have eight such games across both Conferences during May.

2 May (Thurs) 4/5 May 8 May (Wed) 11/12 May 15 May (Wed) 18/19 May 25/26 May
Montreal Impact @ San Jose @ New York RSL Philadelphia
New York Red Bulls @ Columbus Montreal @ New England LA Columbus
Houston Dynamo @ LA @ DC Sporting New England @ Sporting
Sporting Kansas City Chivas Seattle @ Houston @ DC Houston
Columbus Crew New York Colorado @ Toronto @ New York
Philadelphia Union Seattle @ Chicago LA Chicago @ Montreal
New England Revs @ Portland RSL New York @ Houston Toronto
Chicago Fire Philadelphia @ Philadelphia @ RSL
Toronto FC @ Colorado @ San Jose Columbus @ New England
D.C. United Houston @ Dallas Sporting Portland

a. Teams with favorable schedules in May. New York will again play five games during the month, but this time they get to play three games at home (Montreal, LA, and Columbus) and only two on the road (winnable games at Columbus and New England). Unfortunately for New York, they still won't have a bye week until Jun. 8.

On the surface, D.C. United would seem to have a favorable schedule since they are the only team with just one road game during May. While playing three home games at RFK Stadium is good news, the teams they are playing don't provide much optimism that D.C. United can retake RFK (see below).

b. Teams with unfavorable schedules in May. Houston opens a tough month with a very difficult coast-to-coast road trip by playing at one of the league's elite teams (LA Galaxy) followed by a game at the league's most desperate team (D.C. United), all within three days. Their third road game of the month is at Sporting Kansas City (a team Houston will play twice during May). Only their home matchup against the New England Revolution looks like a definite win.

Toronto had a chance to make a move in April, but did not take advantage. They will regret that in May as they head out on the road for three of their four games (Colorado, San Jose, and New England).

c. What to expect in May? D.C. United has a chance to refortify RFK Stadium during May with three home games. Unfortunately, when coupled with their away game at FC Dallas, D.C. United will face the #1 (FC Dallas), #5 (Houston Dynamo), #6 (Sporting Kansas City), and #7 (Portland Timbers) teams in the Supporters' Shield standings entering May (if you use average points per game rather than total points, D.C. United will face the #2, #4, #5, and #6). To put it simply, D.C. United will be playing four of the best teams in MLS during May, and getting results would be tough under the best of circumstances. These aren't the best of circumstances right now for D.C. United, however, so if the team is able to pull itself out of its abysmal start, it will have to accomplish something truly special indeed.

What are you looking forward to in May? What do you think of D.C. United's May schedule?

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