Setting the Stage for April: MLS and D.C. United Review/Preview

Bill Hamid points to a better DCU month. - Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The opening act of the 2014 MLS season is over, and we tell the story using interactive dataviz charts. We also look toward April to see what's in store for D.C. United and the rest of league.

March is over. Thankfully!

It didn't go as we D.C. United fans hoped, but at least it has gone. So, with the first month of the 2014 Major League Soccer season now in the books, let's take a look back at what happened across the league and what's coming in April.

1. March's MLS Results. The interactive table below shows the results for each team in March. We will track monthly performance all throughout the season and give awards to the teams that do the best, while giving a lump of coal to those who do the worst as well. As a reminder, after total points, the three primary tie breakers in use by MLS this season are:

1. Total number of wins
2. Goal differential
3. Goals for

For the month of March, FC Dallas racked up the most total points (10 pts from 4 games, 3-0-1), while the Columbus Crew were the only team to have a perfect month (9 pts from 3 games, 3-0-0). D.C. United (along with the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, and Montreal Impact) achieved distinction at the other end of the table by earning only 1 point. Because of MLS's tiebreakers listed above, the Black-and-Red fall dead last in the monthly standings. This is also the place United found themselves on three occasions when looking at monthly results over the final four months of 2013. So, over the last five individual months of MLS regular season play, D.C. United has been in last place for four of them.

2. Inside the MLS Supporters' Shield Standings. Throughout the season, we'll take a look at how the Supporters' Shield standings correlate to other statistics. In the run up to the start of the season, we looked at how much each team spent on player salary to earn each point. This month, we compare each team's league points to their goal differential. In the graphic below, the size of the box corresponds to how many points the team has, while the color corresponds to goal differential (darker shades of blue represent the best goal differentials in the league while darker shades of red represent the worst). Not surprisingly, teams with good goal differentials tend to have lots of points, while those who have negative goal differentials don't. Sadly, D.C. United's goal differential (-4) is tied for worst in the league with Montreal and the New England Revolution, and already 9 below the Columbus Crew's league-leading goal differential of 5.

We'll also track the progress of each team's place in the MLS Supporters' Shield standings following each week's games. The standings are recorded following the last games on each Sunday of the season, and are based on total points earned (irrespective of how many games each team has played). Here is how each team progressed through the Supporters' Shield standings in the month of March.

Teams making big moves to improve their position during the month were Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution (showing what one win can do at this point in the season). Teams moving in the wrong direction were Chivas USA and San Jose. The hometown team, D.C. United, started very low and then went even lower.

3. Current Eastern Conference Standings. If the 2014 playoffs were to start right now, the Eastern Conference playoff teams would be Columbus, Sporting Kansas City, Houston, Toronto, and the Philadelphia Union.

4. D.C. United and MLS Attendance in March. D.C. United's attendance in March was not good. After two home games, the average attendance at RFK Stadium is 11,643, almost exactly 2,000 fans less than 2013's average home attendance of 13,646. While this year's average attendance will certainly change over the course of the next 15 home games, during the last four seasons, average attendance actually got worse after the second game.

The graphic below shows MLS average attendance in 2013 and in 2014 (year to date) at the top of the graph. In the middle, the two red lines show D.C. United's average attendance in 2013 and in 2014 (year to date). Finally, the two grey/black diagonal lines show the actual attendance at the first two home games for both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. As is evident from the chart, there is a substantial early-season decrease in attendance this year compared to last season (which was the worst year for attendance in club history).

5. April's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. After an opening month schedule that did not have any mid-week MLS regular season matches, April has two--and both will be New York Red Bulls home games.

5 April 12/13 April 16 April 19 April 23 April 26/27 April
New York Red Bulls @ Montreal @ DC Philadelphia Houston @ Columbus
Sporting Kansas City RSL Montreal @ New England
New England Revolution @ DC Houston @ Chicago Sporting
Houston Dynamo Dallas @ New England @ Philadelphia @ New York Portland
Montreal Impact New York Chicago @ Sporting Philadelphia
Chicago Fire Philadelphia @ Montreal New England
Philadelphia Union @ Chicago RSL @ New York Houston @ Montreal
Columbus Crew Toronto @ San Jose DC New York
Toronto FC @ Columbus Colorado @ Dallas
D.C. United New England New York @ Columbus Dallas

Teams with favorable schedules. Three Eastern Conference teams get to play three home games and only once on the road: Columbus, D.C. United, and Montreal. Interestingly, on 26 April, Montreal will play their first game in their home stadium, Stade Saputo. Their previous three home matches were played in Olympic Stadium (welcome to the spring, Quebec!).

Teams with unfavorable schedules. At the other end of the difficulty spectrum, the Houston Dynamo play twice at home in their five April matches, with all three of the road games in a row. The Dynamo also have to play three matches in 9 days. Toronto FC is the only team with just a single home match, but due to the vagaries and mysteries of the MLS schedule, they only play three total matches in April. That means they will have only played 6 games in the first two months of the season while two teams (New York and Philadelphia) will have played 9 games.

Below is our map-based schedule which we will update each month. Just pick a match date and see all the games played in all competitions MLS teams compete in (e.g. MLS regular season, CONCACAF Champions League, US Open Cup, etc.). This month, find all the March results (hover over a game for additional details like attendance) and the schedule for April.

6. What to expect from D.C. United. While the Black-and-Red have three home games in April compared to only one road game, they also have to face the two best teams in the league from the month of March (at Columbus and vs. Dallas). Their two other games are at home against New England and New York, both traditional rivals. If D.C. United is to turnaround their season in April, it looks like they need to get points early in the month when they are at home against the Revs and Red Bulls.

Finally, last month in our poll asking how many points D.C. United needed to earn in March to be "on track", 67% of voters answered 5, 6, or 7 points. That didn't happen, so let's ask the question again for April.

What's your take on the first month of the MLS season? What are you expecting? How many points does D.C. United need to get in April?

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