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Setting the stage for September: D.C. United hits the road chasing trophies

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Following August's results, there is now a firm pecking order within MLS. Six teams, including D.C. United, have far outstripped their fellow teams. How did this happen, and what lies ahead in September?

The coach, a star player, the magic headband, and the fans equal a winning combination.
The coach, a star player, the magic headband, and the fans equal a winning combination.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The busiest month of the season is now behind D.C. United, and it was a successful, although not spectacular, month. Most importantly, the Black-and-Red improved both their Supporters' Shield standings (from 3rd to 2nd) and their position in the Eastern Conference (2nd to 1st) during the month. They also got their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) campaign off to a good start by winning their first group stage match without disrupting their squad rotation for MLS matches. All in all, D.C. United can be proud of what happened in August, but September will be a challenging road for the conference leaders.

1. August's MLS Results. The table below shows each MLS team's record during August. It's ordered by total points. With the exception of Sporting Kansas City, the top-tier teams in MLS had a good month in August. Speaking of Sporting, let's just pile on at this point and mention the fact they played four of their five matches in August at home...

LA Galaxy and FC Dallas were beasts during the month, both posting a +8 goal differential (with LA scoring 19 goals in 7 matches). At the other end of the table, the Colorado Rapids were utterly woeful, going 0-5-0 (but at least they scored 6 goals--looking at you, Chivas USA).

- Best team (total points): LA Galaxy, 5-1-1, 16 pts

- Best team (pts/game): FC Dallas, 4-1-0, 12 pts

- Worst team (total points and pts/game): Colorado Rapids, 0-5-0, 0 pts

2. MLS Supporters' Shield Standings. The Supporters' Shield race is incredibly tight, but two teams are starting to separate themselves: the Seattle Sounders and the Galaxy.  Like D.C. United, Seattle had a good but not great month in August (3-2-1, 10 pts).  But, they continue to set the pace in the Supporters' Shield standings and have a game in hand over D.C. United.  LA is the hottest team in the league right now, and they now sit tied with United on total points, although the Galaxy have a game in hand.  If you look at Potential Points (the highest point total a team can achieve by winning all their remaining games), while both Sporting and Dallas are still in the top grouping of teams with a shot at the Shield, they are now 9 potential points behind Seattle.  Even Real Salt Lake is now 8 potential points behind the Sounders.  So, while these three teams can still win the Shield with an incredible run in the final 2 months, it's looking more and more like the race is coming down to Seattle, LA, and D.C., with the two Western Conference teams having the inside track (but they still must play each other twice as well to finish out the season).

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 is just barely out of first place as of the end of August, but finds itself in some pretty good company alongside the very well run teams in Kansas City and Salt Lake City.

We continue to track the Supporters' Shield standings following the last games of each weekend.  As a reminder, the chart below is built strictly on total points earned as reported in the MLS Supporters' Shield standings, it does not consider the number of games played.  D.C. United's path through the season is highlighted for ease of viewing.  Click on any other team to highlight its path, or click in the white space to remove the highlighting.  BTW, here's a fun fact:  D.C. United has not been lower than 4th in the Supporters' Shield standings since June 8th when they were fifth.

3. Inside the Supporters' Shield Standings. This month, let's take a look at whether total points earned during the season correlates to average home attendance.  In theory, there are a couple possible reasons these two factors may be correlated.  First, MLS has traditionally been a league in which ticket revenue is more important to individual teams than TV revenue (although maybe this changes next year when the new TV deal kicks in?).  Using this logic, teams with a big average attendance should have more resources to spend on better players and coaches and thus should have more total points.  Second, it seems logical to say teams which are winning should draw larger crowds than teams which are not winning.  While this all seems fine on the surface, what do the data show up to this point in 2014?

In the chart below, the size of the box correlates to total points, while the color of the box is based on the average home attendance (teams in deep red have the worst average attendance, while teams in deep green have the best).  The mid-point for the color scale (i.e. the grey color) has been set at the MLS average attendance to date in 2014 of 19,003.  While Seattle and Chivas appear to prove the point that total points and attendance should correlate, it's hard to see many other patterns for the remaining teams in this snapshot view.

4. Current Eastern Conference Standings. If the playoffs were to start now, D.C. United, Sporting, the New England Revolution, Toronto FC (minus their coach), and the Columbus Crew would make the playoffs.  Out West, Seattle, LA, RSL, Dallas, and the Portland Timbers would be in the postseason.  The chart below also highlights just how much distance the top six teams have put between themselves and the "parity pack" below them.

5. D.C. United and MLS Attendance. A huge shoutout to D.C. United fans who are doing a nice job of stepping up attendance at RFK during recent home matches.  As can be seen in the chart below using the orange line, home attendance at RFK in 2014 (compared to 2013's average attendance as shown on the blue line) has generally been trending up, and includes the best home attendance for a regular season match since October 2012 when LEWIS NEAL! scored the stoppage time winner against the Crew to propel United into the playoffs.  Another indicator of improving attendance?  Over the last five home matches (which does not include the FedEx Field game), average attendance at RFK has improved from 12,791 to 13,638.  Overall, including the FedEx Field match, D.C. United's average home attendance is 16,468.

For the season, MLS average attendance is now 19,003, up from 18,796 at the end of July.  For the season, D.C. United's overall average attendance continues to place them 13th in the league.  If we just look at average attendance at RFK Stadium, however, United falls 18th in average attendance notwithstanding the improvements mentioned above.

6. September's MLS Eastern Conference Schedule. Both D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City, your prohibitive favorites to contend for the Eastern Conference title, play the exact seem league profile in September--one home game and three road games.  Sporting, however, gets an up close look at a rookie named Jermaine Jones during their two matches with the Revs as well.  Additionally, both United and Sporting play two CCL matches during the month, although Sporting gets both at home while D.C. United has to venture to Jamaica for one of their matches.

3 Sep 6/7 Sep 10 Sep 12/13 Sep 20/21 Sep 26/27/28 Sep
D.C. United @ Vancouver @ New York @ Chicago Philadelphia
Sporting Kansas City @ New England @ New York @ Chivas New England
New England Revolution Sporting Chicago Montreal @ Columbus @ Sporting
Toronto FC @ Philadelphia Philadelphia @ Chicago Chivas Portland
Columbus Crew Chivas @ Houston New England Montreal
New York Red Bulls Sporting DC @ Philadelphia Seattle @ LA
Philadelphia Union Toronto @ Toronto New York Houston @ DC
Chicago Fire @ New England Toronto DC @ Houston
Houston Dynamo Montreal Columbus @ Philadelphia Chicago
Montreal Impact @ Houston LA @ New England San Jose @ Columbus

Here is the September schedule for the teams playing in CCL and the US Open Cup. For one day in September only, Sep. 16th to be exact, mark me down as a Son of Ben. I'm all in for the Bridgemen/Zolos/Philadelphia Union winning their first trophy as they host the Seattle Sounders for the US Open Cup final.

16 Sep 17 Sep 18 Sep 23 Sep 24 Sep
D.C. United @ Waterhouse (CCL) Tauro (CCL)
Sporting Kansas City Saprissa (CCL) Real Esteli (CCL)
New York Red Bulls @ Montreal (CCL) @ FAS (CCL)
Philadelphia Union Seattle (USOC)
Montreal Impact New York (CCL)

We've updated our MLS schedule map with all the results to date in 2014 for meaningful games involving MLS teams (plus, we've included the MLS All-Star game just to serve as a lasting memorial to Pep Guardiola's petulance). Just click on the map below to get the date you are interested in, and just ensure the competition you are interested in is selected as well.

7. What to Expect from D.C. United. September is all about the road for D.C. United. In the league, they play four matches, with three of them on the road (at Vancouver, at New York Red Bulls, and at Chicago Fire) before returning to RFK Stadium on the last weekend of the month (vs. Philadelphia). In CCL, the Black-and-Red will head to Jamaica mid-month to take on Waterhouse FC, before facing Tauro FC in the District later in the month.  There is not a single gimme road trip in the month, so United will have to continue its solid run of form while away from the DMV (5-6-1, 16 pts, 1.33 pts/gm) to stay in contention for the Supporters' Shield and to move on from the CCL group stage into next year's knockout stages.

Like August, September will present a test of D.C. United's depth and Ben Olsen's squad rotation strategy. In particular, Olsen will need to decide if he rolls out his first choice Starting XI at Vancouver (in what will be a very difficult match no matter who he starts) since he will be facing the Red Bulls in Harrison, NJ, just four days later. Additionally, he will need to decide how many starters (if any) play in the two CCL matches since both occur just days before important league matchups.

And, could September be the month we finally see Chris Pontius back on the field for the Black-and-Red?

8.  Monthly Poll Question. Last month, 53% of respondents said at least three wins during August in MLS play would mean D.C. United remained "on track".  Conversely, the rest wanted to see more wins in August.

With just four league games in September (and only one at RFK), we are back to asking how many points you think D.C. United needs to earn during the month to remain "on track".

What did you think about D.C. United's performance in August?  How do you see the Supporters' Shield race unfolding?  What are you anticipating in September?