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Setting the stage for the MLS playoffs

Get ready for the MLS playoffs with our selection of tables, stats, schedules, and interactive dataviz charts! All the numbers you need to satisfy your inner-soccer geek.

Thank you, Sean Franklin and company.
Thank you, Sean Franklin and company.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it took eight months to play out the 2014 Major League Soccer regular season, but played out it has.  Along the way, we've seen D.C. United spring back from its historically bad 2013 campaign with success both in the league and in CONCACAF Champions League (CCL); we've said our goodbyes to the greatest American soccer player of all time, Landon Donovan; we've watched as the Seattle Sounders walked away with the first two trophies of the year; and we've seen the folding of the proud but troubled Chivas USA franchise.  And while it's been fun, those first eight months were really all about weeding out nine teams and seeding the remaining ten for the MLS Cup playoffs.  Now the second season starts.  Now the quest for the Cup kicks off.  Now the drive for five begins.

1.  October's MLS Results. D.C. United put together a very solid October in the league, going 2-0-2 (8 points, 2.0 pts/gm), and ensuring they were able to clinch the Eastern Conference without needing the two teams chasing them entering the month (the New England Revolution and Sporting Kansas City) to drop points.  United's performance was timely considering the Revs almost put together a perfect month, going 3-0-1 (10 points, 2.5 pts/gm).  Based on this performance, the Revs tied as the best team for the month on both a total points and a points per game basis, along with the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps who had the same record as the Revs.  Needless to say, the race for the Western Conference's fifth position was a barnburner down the stretch.  At the other end of the spectrum, the Colorado Rapids continued their late-season plummet through the MLS standings.  For the month of October, the men from Commerce City went 0-4-0 (0 points) to be declared the worst team for the month however you choose to measure "worst".

The table below is ordered based on total points.  A few interesting observations:

- Look at Chivas USA and their snazzy 3-1-0 record (9 points, 2.25 pts/gm)!  Say what you will, but they finished strong!

- The Eastern Conference playoff teams, with the exception of Sporting (1-2-1, 4 points, 1.0 pt/gm), all put together very good Octobers.  The pack was led by the Revs (10 points), while both the Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls went 3-1-0 (9 points, 2.25 pts/gm), followed by D.C. United on 8 points.

- The LA Galaxy left a lot of points on the table in the final month, going 1-2-1 (4 points, 1.0 pt/gm).

- Who can explain how Toronto FC finished the season given how much money they squandered on salary?  They went 0-4-1 (1 point, 0.2 pts/gm) for the month.  They were matched in this record by the San Jose Earthquakes.  But the Earthquakes are getting a brand new stadium next year, so they will feel better about themselves no matter what in 2015 (your upgraded BMO Field doesn't count, Toronto).

1a. All-Time Major Trophies Won by Active MLS Teams. The month of October saw another MLS trophy awarded, with the Sounders adding the MLS Supporters' Shield to their fourth US Open Cup.  Let's be clear, what Seattle has done in their first six years has been very impressive.  They now own five major trophies, tying them with Columbus and Sporting (both original MLS teams), and they only trail D.C. United (13 trophies), LA (11), and the Chicago Fire (6).  Seattle also now owns the best "trophies per year" rate of any team in MLS, having won 0.83 trophies per season, followed by D.C. United (0.68), the Montreal Impact (0.67), and the Galaxy (0.58).  In the table below, teams are ordered by the year they came into the league, with teams having won more trophies within their year group ordered to the left.  Hover over any team to see their trophies per year rate.

2. MLS Supporters' Shield Standings. The final MLS Supporters' Shield standings are below.  The most interesting stat to me is goal differential.  LA ended the season with a +32 goal differential (almost 1 goal per game better than their opponents), but somehow managed to not win the Supporters' Shield (chalk it up to lots of blowout wins).  Ironically, their StubHub tenants, Chivas USA, ended the season with a -32 goal differential.  For the teams not operating at the ridiculous ends of the bell curve, D.C. United tied with Seattle and Real Salt Lake for the second best goal differential (+15).

For the last time in 2014, we check in on our table which measure the efficiency of team front offices.  No surprise, but D.C. United was the most efficient team of the season as measured on a salary dollars per point basis!  At some point we will need to figure out some new measures of efficiency because teams like Seattle, LA, NYRB, and Toronto (and soon Orlando City and NYCFC) could care less about being the best in terms of dollars per point.  If you are Seattle this season, you're pretty sure your team is infinitely efficient at this point as you admire your two new trophies.  If you are Toronto, you know your team is the antithesis of efficiency.

The long journey through the 2014 MLS regular season is charted below in our graph showing every team's position in the Supporters' Shield standings each week of the season.  We've highlighted D.C. United's path for ease of reading, but you can click on any team to see how they progressed (or click in the white area to remove the highlighting).  A few insights:

- Colorado absolutely cratered the last three months of the season.  They were 5th on 27 Jul, and they ended up 17th at the end of the season.

- Columbus is hot, there is no doubt.  They also ended the season in the best position (7th) they've been in since 27 Apr (when they were 4th).

- D.C. United started the season slowly, spending two weeks in March as the worst team in the league.  They then shot up the standings and were between 2nd and 4th from 15 Jun through the end of the season showing some remarkable consistency.

- Consistent in another way, Montreal first hit 19th on 20 Apr. They then never rose above 17th.

- For the season, from first to last, RSL was never lower than 7th, which occurred on 23 Mar.

- Finally, Seattle first took over 1st on 27 Apr, and then spent every week but two atop the standings.  You earned your Shield, Sounders, and the only surprising thing was it was still in doubt on the final weekend of the season.

3. Inside the Supporters' Shield Standings. For no particular reason, let's look at how total points earned in 2014 compare to the number of major trophies a team has earned in their history.  In the table below, the size of the box correlates to the total points earned in 2014 while the color correlates to the total number of trophies won in a team's history (for reference, 63 major trophies have been won by MLS teams since 1996 and the average team has 3.32 trophies).  Teams in green have won more trophies than the average team (with D.C. United being the darkest green!), while teams in red have won fewer trophies than the average.  At least for 2014, the historically successful teams are dominating the list of playoff teams (the rich are getting richer?).  Of the top six teams in terms of total trophies won (D.C., LA, Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, and SKC), only Chicago isn't still playing.

4. Final Playoff Standings. If the chart below tells us anything, it's the fact MLS Cup can't be played in Kansas City.  As the last seed to make the playoffs, there is no scenario under which they will host the final in 2014.  But, if it's any consolation for Sporting, the Vancouver Whitecaps are pulling for you to go all the way!

5. D.C. United and MLS Attendance. Yeah, D.C. United played solid, consistent, winning soccer during 2014.  Just as exciting, however, is they killed it at the turnstile down the stretch.  For a moment, set aside the 53,267 official attendance for the pre-World Cup match at FedEx Field which was part of a doubleheader with the Spanish National Team (did I mention it was before the World Cup?).  United's last four home matches at RFK Stadium this season saw crowds of 19,453, 19,478, 19,308, and 20,162.  We'll have more to say about D.C. United's attendance after the season in our annual postscript on the topic, but needless to say, this year's average home attendance of 17,030 (including the FedEx Field game) or 14,765 (for games only at RFK Stadium) were both considerably higher than 2013's average of 13,646 ( 24.8% or 8.2% increases respectively).  In the chart below, the orange line indicates home attendance in 2014 for all home games at RFK Stadium, while the blue line shows the attendance for home games in 2013.

In 2014, MLS's overall average attendance was 19,147, a 2.97% increase over 2013's average of 18,594.  Depending on whether you count D.C. United's home game at FedEx or not in their average home attendance, they either finished 12th or 18th respectively in overall attendance among the 19 MLS clubs.

In related news:  Seattle had the highest home attendance (again).  By a lot.  I mean by a ridiculous amount.  And they are converting their attendance advantage into trophies.  At least this year.  It may pain we non-worshipers of rave green, but they are killing it right now as a franchise.  But, they aren't the #1 overall seed in CCL entering the quarterfinals.  So that's something.

6. MLS Playoff Schedule. Here's a fun fact.  If you include the MLS All-Star game, MLS teams will have played exactly 400 meaningful games in 2014 by the time the playoffs end.  These 400 games include CCL, the US Open Cup, the Canadian Championships, the MLS regular season, and the MLS playoffs.  Oh, and for the first and only time this season, two MLS teams will play a meaningful game on a Monday night when Seattle hosts the second leg of the West semifinals on Nov. 10th (hey, NFL, MLS scoffs at your Carolina Panthers vs. Philadelphia Eagle Monday Night matchup that night!).  Here's the playoff schedule.

Date Time Day of the Week Home Team Road Team
29-Oct-14 9:00 PM Wednesday FC Dallas Vancouver Whitecaps
30-Oct-14 8:00 PM Thursday New York Red Bulls Sporting Kansas City
1-Nov-14 4:00 PM Saturday Columbus Crew New England Revolution
1-Nov-14 8:00 PM Saturday Real Salt Lake LA Galaxy
2-Nov-14 4:00 PM Sunday New York Red Bulls D.C. United
2-Nov-14 9:00 PM Sunday FC Dallas Seattle Sounders
8-Nov-14 2:30 PM Saturday D.C. United New York Red Bulls
9-Nov-14 5:00 PM Sunday New England Revolution Columbus Crew
9-Nov-14 7:30 PM Sunday LA Galaxy Real Salt Lake
10-Nov-14 10:30 PM Monday Seattle Sounders FC Dallas
23-Nov-14 1:30 PM Sunday New York New England
23-Nov-14 5:00 PM Sunday LA Galaxy Seattle Sounders
29-Nov-14 3:00 PM Saturday New England New York
30-Nov-14 9:00 PM Sunday Seattle Sounders LA Galaxy
7-Dec-14 3:00 PM Sunday LA Galaxy New England

Our MLS schedule map includes all the games played this season to date, and it includes the upcoming playoff games for which we know both teams.  We'll continue to update the map as the playoffs progress and the locations of all the games are determined.  Just click below to the date you are interested in (and ensure the competition you want is checked as well).

7. What to Expect from D.C. United. The Eastern Conference is wide open, with four of the five playoff teams finishing October playing at an elite level (our definition of elite is averaging 2.0 pts/gm or more).  D.C. United proved they were the best team in the East during the course of the regular season, and they will be a very tough out for whomever they face.  I think they can take the East, but I encourage you to go read a true expert, our own Jason Anderson, who is featured on the SB Nation 2014 MLS Playoffs Preview.

8. Monthly Poll Question. Last month, 80% of respondents said they would consider D.C. United to be "on track" if they scored at least 8 points in October.  They indeed earned 8 points (and clinched the overall #1 seed in the CCL quarterfinals!), so most of us are pretty happy at this point.

Now we are entering the playoffs, so let's determine the wisdom of the crowd which hangs out here on B&RU.  Use the poll question below to help us determine how far D.C. United will progress in the 2014 MLS playoffs.

What are you paying attention to as the playoffs begin?  What catches your eye in the final regular season results?