Setting the Stage for September: D.C. United Makes its Final Run to the Cup

Ben Olsen and the team will use September to prepare for the US Open Cup and 2014. - Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

August will be the busiest month of the season for many MLS teams. D.C. United, however, can focus on getting ready for the US Open Cup final and preparing for the 2014 campaign. Let's break it down and see what ignominious title D.C. United earned for the third time this season.

As we head into the final quarter of the season, only three teams are no longer still in the hunt for the 2013 Major League Soccer playoffs. Unfortunately, one of those teams is our home town club (along with Chivas USA and Toronto FC). So, while the rest of the league (minus the table laggards) are fighting to secure a playoff position, the Black-and-Red will instead spend September getting ready for the US Open Cup final on Oct. 1 against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, and posturing for next season. To get us ready for the next to last month of the season, let's look back at what happened in August (including the games of Sep. 1 which were part of August's final weekend), and what's coming in September.

1. August's MLS Results. Watch out MLS. The Los Angeles Galaxy are starting to surge. In the month of August, the Galaxy went 3-0-1 (10 points against FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver Whitecaps, and San Jose Earthquakes) to be the best team in the league for the month on a points per game basis (2.5 pts/game). On a total points basis, the Seattle Sounders earned the most points (4-1-0, 12 pts) from five matches against Dallas, at Toronto FC, at Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers, and at Columbus Crew. The Chicago Fire also put together a very good month, going 3-1-1 (10 pts) at Philadelphia Union, Montreal Impact, at New England Revolution, Sporting Kansas City, and Houston. If not for Houston's late goal to earn a tie this past weekend, it would have been a huge month for the Fire.

At the other end of the table, D.C. United was the worst team on both a points per game basis and on total points. United went 1-3-1 (4 pts, 0.8 pts/game). This is the third time (out of six months) that D.C. United has held this position, and the second month in a row. While it seems to me D.C. United has generally played better the last two months with the new additions to the team, their performance has probably worsened relative to the rest of the league.

The table below shows each MLS team's results during August. The table is sorted based on average points per game.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game Wins Losses Draws
LA Galaxy 10 4 2.50 3 0 1
Seattle Sounders 12 5 2.40 4 1 0
Chicago Fire 10 5 2.00 3 1 1
Real Salt Lake 11 6 1.83 3 1 2
Montreal Impact 7 5 1.40 2 2 1
New England Revolution 7 5 1.40 2 2 1
New York Red Bulls 7 5 1.40 2 2 1
Houston Dynamo 7 5 1.40 2 2 1
San Jose Earthquakes 7 5 1.40 2 2 1
Colorado Rapids 5 4 1.25 1 1 2
Sporting Kansas City 6 5 1.20 2 3 0
Columbus Crew 6 5 1.20 2 3 0
Chivas USA 5 5 1.00 1 2 2
FC Dallas 5 5 1.00 1 2 2
Portland Timbers 5 5 1.00 1 2 2
Toronto FC 5 5 1.00 1 2 2
Philadelphia Union 5 5 1.00 1 2 2
Vancouver Whitecaps 5 5 1.00 1 2 2
D.C. United 4 5 0.80 1 3 1

a. Surprise teams in August. While suffering through an otherwise poor August, D.C. United played it's two most complete games of the season in August, beating Montreal in the league and Chicago on the road in the US Open Cup semifinals. As previously mentioned, Chicago also put together a very good month in August (despite losing to D.C. in the US Open Cup) to put themselves within two points of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

b. Disappointing Teams in August. In July, the two best teams on a total point basis were the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City. In August, however, Colorado went 1-1-2 (5 pts) while playing RSL, at Chivas USA, Vancouver, and at Sporting. Similarly, Sporting went 2-3-0 (6 pts) from matches against New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, at San Jose, at Chicago, and Colorado. Portland also turned in a poor month, its second in a row, going 1-2-2 (5 pts) against Vancouver, Dallas, RSL twice (home and away), and at Seattle. Based on these two poor months, the Timbers have fallen from a Supporters' Shield contender to being tied for the final Western Conference playoff spot heading into September.

2. Current MLS Supporters' Shield Standings. For the third straight month, RSL sits atop the league's overall table with 48 points. They've played the most games of any team in the league (28), but they also now lead the league in points/game for the first time, sitting at 1.71 pts/game. While LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact, and Seattle Sounders all have games in hand and can theoretically beat 48 points by the time they've played 28 games, RSL has put a marker on the wall that others must now chase. Interestingly, RSL's 1.71 pts/game is the same rate when rounding as D.C. United's at the end of last year (58 pts from 34 games, 1.71 pts/game). Unless someone gets incredibly hot to finish this season, it looks unlikely that any team will top San Jose's 66 points from last season (1.94 pts/game).

LA Galaxy was the big mover in August, going from eighth place in the Supporters' Shield Table at the end of July to now sitting in second place at the end of August. Conversely, Sporting fell from second place at the end of July to fifth place as of now.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game Wins Losses Draws Goals Goal Differential
Real Salt Lake 48 28 1.71 14 8 6 52 17
LA Galaxy 43 26 1.65 13 9 4 43 11
Montreal Impact 42 25 1.68 12 7 6 41 6
New York Red Bulls 42 27 1.56 12 9 6 40 5
Sporting Kansas City 42 27 1.56 12 9 6 38 11
Seattle Sounders 40 24 1.67 12 8 4 32 6
Philadelphia Union 39 27 1.44 10 8 9 37 0
Colorado Rapids 39 27 1.44 10 8 9 34 5
Portland Timbers 39 26 1.50 9 5 12 39 9
Vancouver Whitecaps 37 26 1.42 10 9 7 38 3
New England Revolution 37 26 1.42 10 9 7 35 10
Houston Dynamo 37 25 1.48 10 8 7 30 1
FC Dallas 37 26 1.42 9 7 10 36 -2
Chicago Fire 35 25 1.40 10 10 5 31 -4
San Jose Earthquakes 34 27 1.26 9 11 7 28 -12
Columbus Crew 29 26 1.12 8 13 5 29 -6
Chivas USA 22 26 0.85 5 14 7 26 -21
Toronto FC 22 26 0.85 4 12 10 23 -12
D.C. United 14 26 0.54 3 18 5 16 -27

3. Current MLS Eastern Conference Standings. If the MLS playoffs started now, the five Eastern Conference representatives would be Montreal, New York, Sporting, Philadelphia, and New England. These are the same teams that were in playoff positions at the end of July (although there has been some reordering at the top of the conference table). Even Houston continues to sit on the outside looking in because they still lose the second tie breaker to New England (goals scored), but the Dynamo have a game in hand and could jump to fourth place if they win their next game (at Columbus). Chicago is still clearly in the hunt for the playoffs, while Columbus will have to start piling up points if they want to secure their spot.

As a reminder of what can be done in the final two months of the season, it was at this point last year, following a 1-0 road loss at RSL on Sep. 1 and the loss of Captain Dwayne De Rosario to injury while on duty with the Canadian Men's National Team, that D.C. United went 5-0-2 (17 pts) in its final seven games to vault themselves into the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/ Game Wins Losses Draws Potential Points
Montreal Impact 42 25 1.68 12 7 6 69
New York Red Bulls 42 27 1.56 12 9 6 63
Sporting Kansas City 42 27 1.56 12 9 6 63
Philadelphia Union 39 27 1.44 10 8 9 60
New England Revolution 37 26 1.42 10 9 7 61
Houston Dynamo 37 25 1.48 10 8 7 64
Chicago Fire 35 25 1.40 10 10 5 62
Columbus Crew 29 26 1.12 8 13 5 53
Toronto FC 22 26 0.85 4 12 10 46
D.C. United 14 26 0.54 3 18 5 38

4. Current MLS Attendance Table. MLS average attendance continues its summer-long improvement to 18,285 (it was 18,076 at the end of July). For the 2013 season to date, MLS attendance is now down 2.77% from last year's average of 18,807. With Seattle only having played 11 home games to date, while the average team has played 13, the overall MLS average should continue to move toward last year's number, but will likely fall just short.

Team Games Played 2013 Average
Seattle Sounders 11 42,963
LA Galaxy 12 22,407
Montreal Impact 13 20,933
Portland Timbers 12 20,674
Houston Dynamo 12 20,114
Vancouver Whitecaps 14 19,954
Sporting Kansas City 14 19,834
Toronto FC 13 19,331
Real Salt Lake 14 18,947
New York Red Bulls 13 18,783
Philadelphia Union 14 17,680
FC Dallas 13 15,940
Columbus Crew 13 15,645
Colorado Rapids 14 15,225
Chicago Fire 14 14,551
D.C. United 13 13,604
New England Revolution 13 13,550
San Jose Earthquakes 13 13,492
Chivas USA 13 8,503
MLS Average
18,285

D.C. United played two home matches during August, beating Montreal 3-1 in a front of 12,354 and drawing Toronto 1-1 in front of 13,927. To date, United's average home attendance for 2013 is 13,604, down 1.75% from last season's average of 13,846. Inside this decline, the driving factor has been the falloff in attendance for Saturday matches at RFK, now averaging 14,078 for 2013, an 11.12% decline from last season's Saturday average of 15,839. D.C. United's last chance to really improve this season's average attendance will be against the LA Galaxy on Sep. 14. Unfortunately, this is a 4:00 pm kickoff which has two big negatives. First, D.C. United has traditionally drawn better on Saturday night rather than Saturday afternoon. Second, this game will be played at the same time as the most anticipated college football game of the season, Alabama vs. Texas A&M. Perhaps this will have no effect, but it may for the casual fan. Finally, it remains to be seen whether the LA Galaxy with Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez will have the same ability to draw a crowd at RFK as the David Beckham-led Galaxy did the last time they played in DC (Apr. 9, 2011) when 26,622 showed up.

5. September's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. September will be a very busy month in the world of soccer. Not only will MLS play a full slate, but there are World Cup Qualifiers (and international friendlies) which will affect a number of MLS teams (of most interest, the United States Men's National Team will play at San José, Costa Rica, on Sep. 6, and then they will take on Mexico in Columbus on Sep. 10, while D.C. United will be without its Canadian triumvirate for their road match at Chivas on Sep. 8), and five teams will be playing CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) matches.

The MLS schedule in September is unbalanced. Excluding the Sep. 1 matches which we lumped into August, within the Eastern Conference, Sporting and Philadelphia only play three league games while several teams play five. And, once you add in the games some teams played on Sep. 1 and the upcoming CCL matches, teams better have deep benches because they are in for the busiest stretch of the season. The MLS Eastern Conference schedule for September is in the table below.

4 Sep 7/8 Sep 11 Sep 14 Sep 21/22 Sep 27/28/29 Sep 1 Oct
Montreal Impact @ New England Columbus Vancouver @ Chicago
New York Red Bulls @ Houston Toronto Dallas @ Seattle
Sporting Kansas City Columbus @ Toronto Philadelphia
Philadelphia Union @ San Jose Houston @ Sporting
New England Revs Montreal @ Chicago DC Houston
Houston Dynamo @ Columbus New York @ Philadelphia Chivas @ New England
Chicago Fire @ Seattle @ Toronto New England @ Columbus Montreal
Columbus Crew Houston @ Sporting @ Montreal Chicago @ Dallas
Toronto FC @ Portland Chicago @ New York Sporting DC
D.C. United @ Chivas LA @ New England @ Toronto @ RSL #USOC

a. Teams with favorable schedules in September. As mentioned, Sporting only plays three league matches (plus one CCL match) in September, and two of those are at home (Columbus and Philadelphia). With their only road match at Toronto, Kansas City has a chance to right the ship if they want to contend for the conference's top playoff spot. New England plays four matches in September, and three of those are at home (Montreal, D.C., and Houston). Their only trip away from Gillette Stadium will be at Chicago.

b. Teams with unfavorable schedules in September. Montreal plays four league matches in September and two CCL matches, including five matches in 14 days. But topping that, if you include the Dynamo's Sep. 1 match at Chicago, Houston will play seven games during September (six league matches and one CCL match). Additionally, four of those league matches are on the road (at Chicago, at Columbus, at Philadelphia, and at New England), with only two at home (New York and Chivas). With Montreal and Houston in tight races for the Supporters' Shield and playoffs respectively, they will have to be effective in their management of the month if they hope to move on in CCL while moving up in the MLS table.

c. What to expect in September. D.C. United plays four times in the month of September, with three games on the road (at Chivas, at New England, and at Toronto) and one at RFK (LA). Fortunately, two of those teams are the worst teams we could possibly play since they sit at the bottom of the MLS table with United. But, the prize that all D.C. United eyes will be on during September will be the Oct. 1 US Open Cup final against RSL. It's a road match against the best team in the league. Nothing indicates United will win that game, but they are in it, and they got there fairly while other teams faltered. It's now a one off game for a trophy against a team worrying about keeping its lead in the Supporters' Shield standings. I like our chances to pull the upset--plus, we have the entire month of September to prepare!

Which team do you see taking the Supporters' Shield at the end of the season? Which teams will crumble in September under the weight of so many games? What do you expect to see from D.C. United as they play their final four games before the US Open Cup final?

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