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Setting the stage: A perfect July leads to a busy August

July is gone, and it was a month to remember for D.C. United. August, on the other hand, poses the biggest challenge the team has seen in years.

We salute you, Bill Hamid.
We salute you, Bill Hamid.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer wrapped up July's schedule on Wednesday night, and D.C. United had a big month as the league picked back up after its World Cup slowdown.  We are in the midst of something special for the Black-and-Red right now, but that something will be tested during August, the busiest month of the season for D.C. United.  We've been pointing to August since the schedule was announced knowing it would be a real test for United's depth, and now it's here.

This month's "Setting the Stage" post will be much lighter on words than normal.  With July's schedule concluding on July 30th, and August's schedule starting on Aug. 1st, the opportunity for analysis was slim, so the dataviz charts will tell the story of what happened in July while setting the stage for August.

1.  July's MLS Results. The table below shows each MLS team's record during July.  It's ordered by total points, so while D.C. United isn't at the top, they were still the best team of the month on a points per game basis.

- Best team (total points):  Sporting Kansas City, 4-0-1, 13 pts

- Best team (pts/game):  D.C. United, 4-0, 12 pts

- Worst team (total points and pts/game):  Montreal Impact, 0-5, 0 pts (ouch!)

2.  MLS Supporters' Shield Standings. The top three teams (Seattle Sounders, Sporting, and D.C. United) are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the league, as is especially evident in the potential points column (LA Galaxy notwithstanding).  Sporting and United, in particular, are starting to put a huge distance between themselves and most of their Eastern Conference opponents.

Now, let's look at the most efficient teams on a salary dollar per point basis.  This is our measure of how well team front offices are doing.  D.C. United inches closer to the top of this list.

Finally, here is how the Supporters' Shield standings have progressed through each week of the season.  D.C. United is highlighted for ease of reading, but just click on another team (or in the graph's white space) to change the highlighting.

3.  Inside the Supporters' Shield Standings. This month, let's see if offensive chances created correlate to total points earned in 2014 to date.  To do this, the chart below shows each team's total points (as measured by the size of the boxes) compared to the total number of shots the team has taken (as indicated by the color of the boxes).  D.C. United continues to defy conventional wisdom by having lots of points while taking relatively few shots.  Can you say "Benny-ball is working!"?

4.  Current Eastern Conference Standings. If the playoffs were to start now, Sporting, D.C. United, New England Revolution, Toronto FC, and the Columbus Crew would represent the East.  In the West, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, LA, Colorado Rapids, and FC Dallas would make the postseason.

5.  D.C. United and MLS Attendance. D.C. United home attendance is improving as the season progresses.  As can be seen in the chart below, early in the season, 2014 attendance (the orange line) was generally below 2013 attendance (the blue line), but now 2014 attendance is starting to consistently top 2013 attendance.  For 2014 to date, D.C. United's average home attendance, including their game at FedEx Field, is 16,524.  At RFK Stadium, their average attendance is 13,184.

For the season, MLS average home attendance is now 18,796 (slightly higher than the average at the end of June of 18,514).  D.C. United falls 13th in the league for average attendance.  If only looking at attendance at RFK, however, they fall second to last.

6.  August's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. Here we go.  D.C. United plays seven games during August, six in the league and one in CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).  Here is the league schedule for the Eastern Conference teams:

1/2/3 Aug 9/10 Aug 15/16/17 Aug 23/24 Aug 27 Aug 29/30/31 Aug
Sporting Kansas City Philadelphia @ Vancouver Toronto DCU Houston
D.C. United @ Houston @ RSL Colorado @ Sporting @ LA New York
Toronto FC @ Montreal @ Columbus @ Sporting Chicago New England
New York Red Bulls New England @ Chicago Montreal @ DCU
New England Revolution @ New York Portland Chivas @ Toronto
Philadelphia Union @ Sporting Montreal @ Houston San Jose
Columbus Crew @ Chicago Toronto LA Houston @ Montreal
Chicago Fire Columbus New York @ Montreal @ Toronto Dallas
Houston Dynamo DCU @ Seattle Philadelphia @ Columbus @ Sporting
Montreal Impact Toronto @ Philadelphia Chicago @ New York Columbus

One item to pay attention to in June is that Sporting plays four home games and one away game in the league, while D.C. United plays two home games and four road games.

And here is the schedule for the teams playing in CCL and the US Open Cup:

5 Aug 12/13 Aug 19 Aug 20 Aug 26 Aug
Sporting Kansas City @ Real Esteli (CCL)
D.C. United Waterhouse (CCL)
New York Red Bulls FAS (CCL)
Philadelphia Union @ Dallas (USOC)
Chicago Fire @ Seattle (USOC)
Montreal Impact FAS (CCL) @ FAS (CCL)

With CCL play kicking off in August, we've updated our MLS schedule map to reflect the games which will take place in the CCL group stage.  If you ever wondered where Real Esteli is (really, haven't we all?), just click to 19 Aug on the map below and ensure CCL 2014-2015 is selected.

7.  What to Expect from D.C. United. August will be tough for the hometown team, but they get Fabian Espindola back, which should give the team an additional boost.

8.  Monthly Poll Question. Last month, 100% of responding D.C. United fans said the team would be "on track" if it earned 10 points from the team's four games in July.  Well, United's perfect 4-0 month means we are all satisfied with the direction the team is headed after July.  Needless to say, it was a special month for soccer lovers in the nation's capital.

With six league games in August, we are back to asking about the number of games D.C. United needs to win in August (rather than the number of points they need to earn) in our poll below.

What do you expect in August?  Can D.C. United continue its outstanding play in the league while taking CCL seriously?  Which players will be key for this run?