Who wants to lead the East anyway? DC United, Philadelphia Union struggle

One team has dominated the run so far this season in the Western Conference, but the Eastern Conference? It's been a bit of a hot potato of late.

Teams changing places atop the standings isn't unheard of, but the two teams atop the East standings this month have both struggled to put their imprint on the table...and put distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.

On May 12, both D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union were on 23 points, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. But since then? Both teams are still at the top, but they've struggled mightily.

D.C. now have 26 points and moved ahead of the Union into first place, but they've picked up just three points in their last four games, most recently blowing a late lead to draw 3-3 at home against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday.

Philly have struggled as well, earning a mere two points in three games -- all at home -- including Wednesday's 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids, a game where they also dropped a second-half lead to drop points.

The saving grace for both teams is that in spite of their recent struggles, the chasing pack haven't completely caught up to them so far. The Montreal Impact, who were briefly in first place themselves earlier this season, sit in third, two points behind D.C. United, while defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United have started picking up results at a faster pace but sit three points behind the leaders. The New York Red Bulls, last year's Supporters' Shield winners, are now just five points back of United with two games in hand after an uneven start.

It's worth asking whether leading the conference truly matters in May, just three months through the season and with another four and change to go before the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. To be fair, there is a lot of soccer left to be played and nothing is decided in May, certainly.

But it can matter nonetheless. With the playoff format this season changing to a single-elimination format for all rounds, the result is that teams will be far more eager to wrap up a higher seed and a home game -- and for the top seed in each conference, a bye through the opening round. Teams can't clinch a top slot in May, but with points likely to be more important than ever for playoff seeding this season, it's possible Philadelphia and D.C. could look back on this month with regret if they can't stay at the top through Decision Day presented by AT&T on October 6.


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