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Setting the Stage for April: Time for Early Revenge

The second month of the young MLS season is just getting started. Let's review what happened in March, take a look at league attendance figures to date, and see what to expect from the Eastern Conference's April schedule.

March didn't go as planned for D.C. United, but April's a new month.
March didn't go as planned for D.C. United, but April's a new month.

The 2013 Major League Soccer regular season is eight months long, and the first of those months is now complete. March brought some surprises, some expected results, and a lot of consternation for D.C. United fans. We hope April is kinder for the hometown team, but it certainly starts with a difficult away game at Sporting Kansas City this Friday night. But, before we get to the April schedule, let's see what happened in March.

1. Current MLS Eastern Conference Standings.

Team Total Points Games Played Pts/Game Wins Losses Draws Potential Points
Montreal Impact 12 5 2.40 4 1 0 99
Houston Dynamo 9 4 2.25 3 1 0 99
Sporting Kansas City 8 5 1.60 2 1 2 95
Columbus Crew 7 4 1.75 2 1 1 97
Philadelphia Union 6 4 1.50 2 2 0 96
New York Red Bulls 5 5 1.00 1 2 2 92
Toronto FC 4 4 1.00 1 2 1 94
D.C. United 4 4 1.00 1 2 1 94
New England Revolution 4 4 1.00 1 2 1 94
Chicago Fire 1 4 0.25 0 3 1 91

a. Surprise teams in March. Both the Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew had what looked like very difficult March schedules with each playing three road games. Rather than struggling, however, both won two road games each to find themselves at or near the top of the Eastern Conference.

b. Disappointing teams in March. Clearly, the Chicago Fire are one of the most desperate teams in MLS right now (along with Seattle) with their extremely poor start to the season. Entering the season, not many Fire fans would have expected their team to drop their first two home games to the New England Revolution and Chivas USA (and the loss to Chivas was a 4-1 dismantling). Similarly, D.C. United has also been disappointing with a meager 4 points in their first four games. While a loss at Houston and a draw in New Jersey may be understandable, losing at home to Columbus and generally looking poor in most of their first four games, all while relying on superstar Bill Hamid to even earn their four points, has not met preseason expectations.

c. Overall. If the table above tells us anything, it's that the MLS season is a long one. The "Potential Points" column indicates how many points a team could theoretically earn this season if they won all their remaining games. While no team will actually earn anywhere near this many points (only two teams even had more than 60 points last season), it's useful for D.C. United fans to keep in mind that they are only 5 points behind the conference leaders with 30 games left to go. As a reminder, the LA Galaxy had a 1-2-1 (4 points) record last season in March as well.

2. Current MLS Attendance Table. To state the obvious, home attendance is a big deal this season for D.C. United after last year's all-time low attendance average at RFK Stadium. We all hope this is the year for the long-anticipated stadium announcement, and it would be nice for the team to build momentum toward such an announcement with a significant increase in fans this season. So, how is D.C. United doing so far relative to the rest of the league early in 2013?

Team Home Games Played 2013 Average
Seattle Sounders 2 39,574
Montreal Impact 2 32,078
Toronto FC 2 22,173
Portland Timbers 2 20,674
Real Salt Lake 2 20,365
LA Galaxy 3 19,726
Vancouver Whitecaps 2 19,539
Sporting Kansas City 2 19,239
New York Red Bulls 2 18,923
Houston Dynamo 3 17,954
Philadelphia Union 2 16,925
Columbus Crew 1 16,528
FC Dallas 3 14,960
D.C. United 2 14,053
Colorado Rapids 2 13,448
Chicago Fire 2 11,483
New England Revolution 2 11,250
San Jose Earthquakes 3 10,525
Chivas USA 3 7,425
MLS Average

Last season, D.C. United averaged 14,742 fans for their first two home matches of the season. Across all 17 regular season home matches, D.C. United finished 17th of the 19 MLS teams with an average attendance at 13,846. It's too early to say how 2013 home attendance will pan out for D.C. United, but the current average of 14,053 is certainly disappointing. In particular, the early 3:30pm kickoff on Saturday, Mar. 23, against Columbus resulted in a small crowd of 11,034 fans (a worse attendance than all but three Wednesday night games in 2012). The good news is that there are no more early kickoffs this season at RFK Stadium with the exception of the last game of the year against Houston (Sunday, Oct. 27, 1:30pm) in a match that should have playoff implications. Additionally, the month of April should hopefully increase D.C. United's average attendance with weekend games against two of our biggest rivals at RFK.

3. April's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. In March, we referred to the Eastern Conference schedule as Round 1 of a Battle Royale since so many games were inter-conference Eastern matchups. For D.C. United, April will be Round 2 of the Battle Royale with return matches in store against both New York and Columbus, and first games against Sporting and the Philadelphia Union. If United is going to move up the league table, however, they're going to have to earn more than 1 point total in their second games against the Red Bulls and the Crew.

Here's the April schedule for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

5/6/7 Apr 13/14 Apr 17 Apr (Wed) 20/21 Apr 27/28 Apr
Montreal Impact
Columbus Chicago
Houston Dynamo @ Portland Chicago @ Toronto Colorado
Sporting Kansas City DC @ New York @ LA Portland
Columbus Crew Philadelphia @ Montreal @ Chicago DC
Philadelphia Union @ Columbus Toronto @ DC @ New England
New York Red Bulls @ Chicago @ DC Sporting New England @ Toronto
Toronto FC Dallas @ Philadelphia Houston New York
D.C. United @ Sporting New York Philadelphia @Columbus
New England Revs @ Seattle @ New York Philadelphia
Chicago Fire New York @ Houston Columbus @ Montreal

a. Teams with favorable schedules in April. If March was good for the Montreal Impact, April promises to be much easier and perhaps equally profitable. The Impact have only two league games during the month, both of which are at home, giving them the opportunity to both rest up and pile up some more points atop the Eastern Conference standings. Originally, Montreal was scheduled to play a road match at the LA Galaxy, but that game has been postponed due to the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. As a note, Montreal plays at Toronto on Apr. 24 in the first leg of the final four opening round of the Canadian Championship.

If Toronto FC is going to make a run up the standings at any point this season, April appears to be the month. With three home games and only one road game (at Philadelphia), this is "moving month" for Toronto. As previously mentioned, the Reds will host Montreal in the opening leg of the Canadian Championship semifinals play-in series.

b. Teams with unfavorable schedules in April. Sporting Kansas City faces what will surely be one of the toughest road trips of the season by playing at New York and at LA in the space of three days. The Philadelphia Union also have a tough month ahead by playing only one home match and three matches on the road, while the New England Revolution also only have one home match, while playing two on the road (although the away game at the Seattle Sounders isn't looking quite as fearsome as expected at this point in the season).

The New York Red Bulls had a very difficult March schedule with two home games and three road games (two of which were on the west coast), and their results reflect that tough start. Unfortunately for them, April is equally tough as they again play two home games and three games on the road. To add to their road woes, New York doesn't have a bye week until Jun. 8, 16 games into the 2013 season.

c. What to expect in April? For D.C. United fans, the first game of April doesn't look promising against a resurgent Kansas City on the road. As if the Apr. 13 match at RFK against New York wasn't big enough, a loss at Kansas City could give the Red Bulls game an air of "must win" desperation. Certainly, matches at home against Philadelphia and on the road at Columbus are winnable, but the team will have to play significantly better to make a serious move up the Eastern Conference standings in April.

What are your expectations for April? How will D.C. United perform? What teams will make a positive move, and which will sink in the Eastern Conference standings?