Setting the Stage for July: D.C. United Faces a Pivotal Month

Will Espindola miss all of July? - Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Been focused on the World Cup? Well, get caught up on everything you need to know as MLS gears back up for the month of July.

With the World Cup keeping us fully entertained for the last few weeks (until yesterday's heartbreaking loss by Team USA), you may have forgotten some of the details about what happened in June with our domestic league, the Major League Soccer. MLS pared down the schedule during the group stage of the World Cup, but we've got a full recap of all that occurred in the league, including a middling performance for the month by D.C. United that in the end didn't hurt them at all in the standings. We also look ahead to the month of July and give you all the information you need to enjoy the start of the second half of the season.

1. June's MLS Results. D.C. United played three league matches during the month of June, going 1-1-1 (4 points, +1 goal differential). While this would have been enough to see them progress out of many groups in the World Cup, it was a slightly disappointing month that saw them earn a lower points/game average during the month (1.33 pts/game) than they have earned throughout the entire season (1.56 pts/game). And this happened despite playing two home matches in their three games.

As a reminder, we included the games of June 1st in our May monthly totals since those games were part of the final weekend of May.

For the third straight month, the Seattle Sounders earned one of our "best of the month" awards, this time topping the charts on both total points and points/game. Sporting Kansas City equalled the Sounders 2-0 record for the month and share these top honors for the first time this year. At the other end of the table, the San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, and New England Revolution were the worst teams of the month on total points and points/game, going 0-2 and earning 0 points.

2. MLS Supporters' Shield Standings. For D.C. United, despite a disappointing month, they actually improved their Supporters' Shield position from the beginning of the month (in 5th position after the games of June 1st) to the end (now in 4th position, and tied for 2nd on points). Pretend not to notice the Black-and-Red were 2nd in between.

From the table above, it is clear Seattle has separated themselves from the rest of league, and are truly earning elite results (2.19 pts/game). Additionally, because Toronto FC and LA Galaxy have played fewer games than the rest of the league (12 and 13 respectively), they are the closest to Seattle on Potential Points (the theoretical number of points a team can attain if they win the rest of their games). But, if they are to match Seattle on total points, both the Reds and the Galaxy would have to go on a remarkable winning streak as they catch up in the number of games played. The Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union, on the other hand, dropped the most Potential Points and now sit 21 and 20 Potential Points behind Seattle respectively (and 11 and 10 Potential Points behind the East-leading teams of Sporting and D.C. United).

Now let's look at how efficient teams are being with the resources they put toward player salary.

The D.C. United front office continues to look good in this table which at the top shows the teams spending the fewest dollars for each point they earn. Although the hometown side is the 10th biggest spending team in terms of total player salary, they are the 5th most efficient. Usual suspects Sporting and Real Salt Lake continue to be among the best-run teams in the league.

Next, let's see how the Supporters' Shield standings have progressed from week to week.

We've already mentioned D.C. United's improved standing at the end of the June despite their performance during the month (highlighted for ease of reading in the chart), but another interesting point from this table is the seemingly high variability in team positions which is evident early in the season seems to be leveling off, and teams are finding their zone within the table. This makes intuitive sense (teams rise or fall to the level of their competence as the season progresses, and then tend to stay in that general area), but we will watch to see if mid-season signings, injuries, the loss of Christian, or schedule congestion start to radically change individual team's fortunes. Just click on any team to see their path through the season, or click in the white space of the graph to see all of it.

3. Inside the Supporters' Shield Standings. This month, we compare total points earned throughout the season to the points earned during the month of June. In the chart below, the size of the box is based on total points earned to date throughout the season, while the color of the box is based on points earned during the month of June (excluding games on June 1st). Teams earning the least points in June are in dark red, and teams earning the most are in dark grean (hover over any team to get the details of how they've done). Perhaps not surprisingly, the two top teams (Seattle and Sporting) in the league did best during June, while 12 total teams earned four or more points (only six teams earned less than three points). All in all, June was mostly a wash for MLS.

4. Current Eastern Conference Standings. If the playoffs were to start now, Sporting Kansas City would be the top seed in the East (beating out D.C. United on the first tie breaker--goal differential), followed by D.C. United, New England (despite a bad June), Toronto, and the New York Red Bulls. In the West, the playoffs teams would be Seattle (by a mile), the Colorado Rapids, RSL, FC Dallas, and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

5. D.C. United and MLS Attendance. June was a seminal month for D.C. United home attendance with an official crowd of 53,267 staying around on June 7th to see them play the Columbus Crew at FedEx Field in a doubleheader with the Spanish National Team. Along with another nice home crowd at RFK for the game against Seattle (16,922), the team's average home attendance to date is now 16,839, up 37.2% from the average of 12,275 at the end of May. If you just look at home games at RFK Stadium, however, the average home attendance is 12,791. By the end of the season, the FedEx game will pad the season home attendance average by 2,400+.

Please note, the chart above does note include the FedEx Field match against Columbus because it skews the scale of the chart and makes the chart unuseful for any purpose other than showing the massive crowd at that one game. With that said, we are including the attendance at FedEx Field in D.C. United's average attendance for the season.

Another plus of the massive attendance at FedEx Field on June 7th is D.C. United now sits 12th in overall average home attendance, up from their usual position of 17th (usually trailed only by San Jose and Chivas USA). Additionally, based in part on the FedEx Field game, and the massive attendance (50,006) which saw San Jose play the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium this past weekend, MLS's overall average attendance is now at 18,514, up about 1.5% from the average MLS attendance at the end of May (18,264).

6. July's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. Following June's light MLS schedule, July sees the league getting back to normal, which means strange things like Toronto playing seven league matches during the month (and they do need to catch up in the games played department), while the Houston Dynamo only play three.

Here's the schedule for the first half of the month:

2 July (Wed) 4/5/6 July 11/12 July 16 July (Wed) 19/20 July
Sporting Kansas City Chicago @ Montreal @ Columbus LA
D.C. United @ Toronto @ San Jose Chivas
New England Revs @ RSL Chicago @ LA @ Dallas
Toronto FC @ Chicago DC Houston Vancouver @ Houston
New York Red Bulls @ Houston Columbus @ Philadelphia San Jose
Columbus Crew @ Colorado @ New York Sporting Montreal
Philadelphia Union @ Dallas Colorado New York @ Chicago
Houston Dynamo New York @ Toronto Toronto
Chicago Fire Toronto @ Sporting @ New England Philadelphia
Montreal Impact @ Chivas Sporting @ Columbus

Here's the schedule for the second half of the month:

23 July (Wed) 24 July (Thurs) 26/27 July 30 July (Wed)
Sporting Kansas City @ Toronto
D.C. United Toronto
New England Revs Columbus Colorado
Toronto FC Sporting @ DC
New York Red Bulls @ RSL
Columbus Crew @ New England
Philadelphia Union
Houston Dynamo
Chicago Fire @ San Jose Vancouver
Montreal Impact @ RSL Portland

Plus, we still get the World Cup through the championship match on July 13th!

We also have the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup in July, with Philadelphia, New England, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and Portland still representing MLS in the competition. Excuse me while I grumble about D.C. United's brief appearance in this year's competition...

Below is our updated MLS schedue map showing all competitive matches MLS teams have competed in this calendar year in all competitions. It also contains the league and US Open matches for July. Click to the date you are interested in and the competition, and then hover over the game to get all the particulars.

7. What to Expect from D.C. United. D.C. United's month begins with a 2-game road swing with the first game at Toronto against a Reds side which is second in the league in points/game (6-4-2, 20 pts, 1.67 pts/game). I expect the Reds will be missing Michael Bradley (as he recovers from running farther than any other player at the World Cup during the group stage plus playing 120+ minutes in the Round of 16) and Julio Cesar while both are on World Cup duty, but this is a team which hasn't lost since before those players departed for Brazil. Plus, with Fabian Espindola still out injured for D.C. United, this will be a very tough match and even a single point will be a good result. The Black-and-Red then head to the west coast for a rare Friday night game against San Jose. The Earthquakes are not a good team right now, but even with Chris Wondolowski back from Brazil, this is a spot where D.C. United needs to get a road win.

D.C. United then has a 2-game home stretch against Chivas USA (this is a must win game) and Toronto again. Toronto should have all their stars back well in time for this game on July 30th, so let's hope there is a big crowd on hand for what will surely be a difficult match. It's possible this game will determine whether D.C. United has a successful July or not, and they need it to be successful because August will see the Black-and-Red playing six league games (only two are at home), plus CONCACAF Champions League group-stage matches.

8. Monthly Poll Question. Last month, only 17% of us thought four or less points (from the nine available) during June would equal D.C. United being "on track". That means, 83% of us were disappointed with the month. Fortunately, as we've seen, the team wasn't hurt in the overall standings. How much the team misses those dropped points remains to be seen as the rest of the season unfolds.

For July, vote in our poll below on how many points D.C. United needs to get from their four matches to be "on track".

What do you expect in July? How will the two games against Toronto go? Can D.C. United get a road win in the Bay Area? Can they beat Chivas USA at home? Tell us in the comments section below.

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