Setting the Stage for June: D.C. United, MLS, US Open Cup, and the World Cup

D.C. United gave the fans another solid month in May. - Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Join us as we take stock of the MLS season so far, and look ahead to one of the most glorious month's of soccer any fan could hope for. And, with D.C. United playing well, the sky is bluer, our jokes are funnier, and we may all just be a little better looking as well.

June is finally here. The month which will see the opening of the 2014 World Cup. The month in which MLS teams enter the US Open Cup (with D.C. United as the reigning champions of US Soccer). And the month in which MLS teams will face a lighter league schedule than usual. D.C. United enters June while continuing to pile up good results, and the schedule is favorable again for the hometown team to put up another good month.

1. Sometimes Pretty Good is Good Enough (aka May's MLS Results). Unlike April when D.C. United tied with the Seattle Sounders as the best team for the month (on both an absolute points and a points/game basis), the Black-and-Red didn't win those awards in May. But, they put up a solid month that looks even better when you compare them to the rest of the league.

Seattle continues to show they are the class of MLS right now, winning their second monthly "best team" award in a row when looking at total points (13 pts from 6 games, 4-1-1). The Vancouver Whitecaps put together a superb month as well which saw them lead the way for May on a pts/game basis (2.5 pts/game, 10 pts, 4 games, 3-0-1). At the other end of the table, FC Dallas continued to repeat their Jekyll and Hyde performance from last year by earning 2 points from 7 matches in May (0-5-2). For their performance, they earn a monthly "worst team" award on both a total points and pts/game basis. D.C. United tied for fourth in May on a total points basis (10 pts from 6 games, 3-2-1) and finished in the top half of the league on a pts/game basis (1.67 pts/game). They also gave up the fewest goals in May (5 goals in 6 games) and tied for third best goal differential (+3). Overall, it was a solid performance for D.C. United.

2. Can Seattle Continue Their Elite Level of Play? (aka MLS Supporters' Shield Standings) In my mind, a team has to average at least 2.0 pts/game to be called elite. MLS rarely sees a team finish the season averaging more than 2.0 pts/game (the last time it happened was 2005 when the San Jose Earthquakes earned 64 points from their 32 matches, 18-4-10). History says Seattle will find it very difficult to do so as well, but only time will tell.

Total points in the league table aren't conclusive at this point in the season since there is such a wide disparity in the number of games played. At the low end of games, Toronto FC has only played 10 matches, while three teams (Dallas, Houston Dynamo, and the Philadelphia Union) have all played 50% more games than the Reds--or 15 matches each. The rest of the league falls somewhere in between. Two ways to overcome this scheduling problem when analyzing the league table is to look at pts/game (in which D.C. United is tied for 5th best) or "potential points." Potential points are the maximum number of points a team could earn if they won all their remaining games. No team will do that, but it shows us what is possible and is particularly useful in showing which teams have fallen further behind the pack than total points indicates. From looking at potential points, we can see that Toronto is second from the top in the league, all they have to do is win all their games in hand (a very tall task). We also see Philadelphia is already 18 points (or 6 full games) off the league-leading Sounders, while the New York Red Bulls are 9 points (or 3 full games) behind D.C. United. (BTW, click on any of the column headings in the tables to sort the table on that parameter.)

Next, let's look at our monthly measure of front office and coaching efficiency. To do this, we look at how many dollars (in terms of player salary) it costs each team to earn each point they've accumulated so far this season.

As a reminder, D.C. United is exactly in the middle of MLS (10th place) in terms of total player salary, but on a cost per point basis, they are the 4th most efficient team in the league (bested only by New England, Real Salt Lake, and the Colorado Rapids). These are good numbers for the team, and reflect well on the player acquisition and coaching staffs so far this season.

Another sign of how good May was for D.C. United is in our monthly Supporters' Shield standings graph below. As a reminder, the chart below is based on total points only, it doesn't care how many games a team has played. It is based on the Supporters' Shield standings as recorded on each Sunday of the season after the final games are complete for the weekend. We've highlighted D.C. United's path through the season for ease of reading, but you can click on any team to highlight how they've done (or click in the graph's white space to show entire graph.

Seattle led the standings the entire of month of May, while New England and D.C. United continued to rise through the standings.

3. Does Defense Really Win Championships (aka Inside the Supporters' Shield Standings). A favorite saying of sages across multiple different sports is, offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. Is that true in soccer? Let's take a look at how total points and goals conceded correlate in the graphic below so far in 2014. The size of each team's box is based on the total points earned, while the color of the box is based on total goals conceded. Teams giving up the fewest goals are in dark green, while teams giving up the most goals are in dark red. Hover over any team to see their specific stats.

Seattle is playing this season like they believe defense isn't the key to winning a trophy. They are simply outscoring their opponents. At the other end of the spectrum, however, the worst teams in MLS are giving up lots of goals.

4. We're Moving on Up (aka Current Eastern Conference Standings). At the end of April, D.C. United pleasantly found themselves sitting third (after tiebreakers were applied) in the Eastern Conference after a sterling month of play. At the end of May, they have moved even higher, now occupying second position all by themselves.

If the playoffs started now, your Eastern Conference playoff teams would be New England, D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City, Houston, and Toronto. There are no Red Bulls to be found. In the Western Conference, your playoff teams would be Seattle, RSL, Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas. The fact Dallas is still hanging around a playoff spot after their awful month of play is testament to just how special the opening of their season was.

5. The Highs were High and the Lows were Low (aka D.C. United and MLS Attendance). During the month of May, D.C. United saw its worst regular season attendance (8,224) since September 2009 (a Wednesday night win against the Kansas City Wizards in the rain), and its best (18,522) since October 2012 (Columbus Crew, LEWIS NEAL!, need I say more?). Overall, after eight home matches, D.C. United is averaging 12,275 fans per game. While an improvement over the average at the end of April (11,469), it is still down almost exactly 10% from last year's worst ever annual home attendance average of 13,646. In the graphic below, this season's home attendance is compared to last season's, with attendance for the first eight home games of 2013 charted with the red line, while attendance for each home game of 2014 is charted with the black line.

D.C. United's next match, on Saturday, June 7th, at FedEx Field, is sure to be their biggest home attendance in years, and will be a boon to the overall season's average.

Across MLS, average attendance to date in 2014 (18,264) is running slightly behind last year's average of 18,594. Seattle continues to set the pace in attendance, while Chivas USA continues to plumb the depths of attendance futility. Assuming they stay in StubHub Center, what rebranding will bring the fans back to them next season? D.C. United continues to sit third from the bottom in attendance (same question but insert RFK Stadium for StubHub Center). In the next few months, we will track whether the league sees a post-World Cup attendance boost in the afterglow of the US Men's National Team's winning their first World Cup (I've been listening to a lot of Men in Blazers lately).

6. This is What a Hiatus Looks Like (June's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule). After May's soccerfest (including games on June 1st finishing off the last weekend in May) which included 53 league matches, June will only see 24 league matches due to the slowdown in games to accommodate the World Cup. Remember,we aren't including matches from June 1st in the June schedule (see above).

In addition to league games, however, MLS teams will also compete in the final leg of the Canadian Championships (on June 4th) and in 16 US Open Cup 4th round matches (and up to eight 5th round matches later in the month). Plus, it's the World Cup this month! THE WORLD CUP!

4 June 6/7/8 June 11 June 25 June 27/28/29 June
New England Revs New York Philadelphia
D.C. United Columbus @ Montreal Seattle
Sporting Kansas City @ Houston @ Portland
Houston Dynamo Sporting @ Montreal
Toronto FC San Jose @ New York
Columbus Crew RSL @ DCU Dallas
New York Red Bulls @ New England Toronto
Philadelphia Union Vancouver @ New England
Chicago Fire @ Colorado Seattle
Montreal Impact DCU @ Vancouver Houston

Four Eastern Conference teams get to play more home games than away games in June: the Revs, United, the Crew, and the Impact. New England has a dream schedule with lots of rest between games and both of their games against Eastern rivals at home. D.C. United has a tricky league schedule with its game against Montreal coming after short rest (while the Impact get an extended rest heading into the match), and then having to face MLS's best team (Seattle) at the end of the month. And the Sounders are good on the road, already amassing a 3-1-2 (11 pts from 6 road matches) heading into June.

Teams with difficult (albeit short) schedules are Sporting, with matches on the road against a wounded Houston side and a bitter Portland Timbers squad. Philadelphia also has two tough matches, hosting the entertaining and dangerous Vancouver Whitecaps (are we believers yet?) and then travelling up the interstate to conference-leading New England. Finally, Chicago must go to the Mile High city to face Colorado this Wednesday, and then they play their last game of the month three days later when they host Seattle. That's right, the Fire play their last league match of the month on June 7th. They then have a 25-day break before playing their next MLS regular season match on July 2nd.

Want to see where MLS teams are playing across all competitions in June? Just check out our MLS Schedule Map below by selecting the competition and match date you are interested in. You can also look back at all the results since the beginning of the 2014 season to date (just hover over a game for details about the match).

7. Defend the Cup, and do Well in the League! (aka What to Expect from D.C. United). With only three league matches, it appears to be a light month for D.C. United (but heavier than most of their conference foes), but don't forget their US Open Cup match on the road against the Rochester Rhinos on June 17th, and another Cup match (assuming the Champions beat the Rhinos) later in the month. Expect the Rhinos to give the Black-and-Red a difficult match (somewhere Admiral Ackbar is yelling about a trap!). Five matches total will test the Black-and-Red's depth, but they shouldn't have to worry about whether to prioritize the league or the Cup until a possible 5th round USOC match on June 24th or 25th with a league match against Seattle looming at RFK on June 28th. June is also the last month of the season in which D.C. United will play more home matches (two) than away matches (one). The road gets tougher starting in July.

8. How Many Points in Good Enough? (aka Monthly Poll Question). At the beginning of May, 70% of you said D.C. United needed to win at least three of their six matches during the month to be "on track". Well, that happened, so it appears most of us think this team is tracking in the right direction after the first three months of the season.

With only three league matches in June, we are back to our standard poll formulation of asking how many points D.C. United needs to earn in June to continue being "on track"? Record your answer below.

What do you expect in June? Will you be paying attending to MLS and the US Open Cup during the World Cup? If D.C. United is forced to prioritize between the league and the Open Cup, which should they pick?

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