The MLS season is now about a third of the way through, and while it’s not quite time for a midseason review, some of our (read: My) previously assumed outcomes have been shot down the pooper faster than you can say "antidiarrheal".
First off, let us start with what is currently the biggest story of the year (due to failure, though it could be argued LA is bigger), Toronto.
Toronto started out into like eager pilgrims, rightfully encouraged by the fruits of their midseason harvest last year (Koevermans and Frings) and walking forward with purpose. They finished last season strongly, knocked the LA Galaxy out of the CONCACAF champions league and looked a strong contender to take home yet another Canadian ACC Championship.
Many writers and bloggers (myself included) said: "This is it! This is the year the loyal fans at Toronto FC are rewarded for their fanaticism and patience! This year TFC makes the playoffs!". They may have squeaked in, but surely this year, with a weak east, was the year in which Toronto made it.
How badly things turned out.
The fresh-faced do-gooders of TFC didn't get the memo about winning being important, and they ran directly into some hungry bears. The TFC fans are still looking for the last remaining pieces of their poor, unlucky Reds. Toronto lacked health, as Mr. Frings has missed a significant chunk of time due to injury, but absences are not an overwhelming issue for TFC. Their biggest issue has been being mauled to bits every time they go out onto the pitch. Nine straight losses to start the season surely spell the end of all reasonable playoff hopes.
Chivas USA, for me, was the weakest team in the west. They did not look weak through lack of effort put on the field, but they carried much of the same personnel as last year and did nothing significant to improve upon that during the offseason. I legitimately expected Chivas to finish at the bottom of the table, maybe second to last, and never really compete significantly for another year or so.
That could have been the case if not for Dan "The Iron Curtain" Kennedy, whose performances have outright stolen several if not most of the results for Chivas USA this year. The Goats have defended decently as a unit; even excellently at times. But if not for the man between the posts Chivas might find itself desperately low in the table, alongside fellow western guppies the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas (I never thought I would write that).
With Dan Kennedy acting the Leonidas to the Goats' Sparta, the Chivas brass decided to be bold and acquired Danny Califf from the Union and Juan Agudelo from the Red Bulls, both huge moves that improve them significantly. Now the Goats don't look so weak, and their early-season, bleating dreams of a playoff berth are looking more and more likely.
It's hard not to be happy for Chivas, a team that has struggled even more than Dallas has with its fanbase and doubly so results-wise.
For a team that looked decent in their expansion year and made the playoffs their second year in existence, the Union sure have taken a nosedive into the dumps headfirst.
Peter Nowak has done quite a bit to undo the goodwill extended to him during his first two years, and it started with trading away Sebastien Le Toux for undisclosed amounts of money, which to Philly fans amounts to a hill of magic beans. Then there was a public spat with team captain Danny Califf involving his unceremonious benching.
Later it involved Nowak making sly comments about throwing a parade when Le Toux and the Vancouver Whitecaps came to visit their stadium. It has culminated with the Union trading away Mwanga, a move intended to bring about more experienced players into the fold as it seemed to Nowak that Mwanga was not developing in an ideal fashion and cut ties.
All in all, the season has been a disaster for the Philadelphia Union. It could get worse though.
They could always be Toronto FC.
The LA Galaxy:
This was the season in which the Galaxy were going to march forward and claim the mantle of "Greatest MLS Side Ever".
The Galaxy were to stride towards the altar of CONCACAF and crown themselves Kings of MLS, ruling by divine right and then blessing our meager league with their unabashed glory.
Four months later they lie in a bloodied heap at the bottom of the MLS ladder, staring at Seattle and Real Salt Lake who laugh in their faces while they use LA as a stepping stone towards greatness.
Many articles have been written about the Galaxy so I won't attempt to cover it, though it must be said they are by FAR the biggest surprise of the season. Even the Mavs didn't crash this hard: They made the playoffs this year, something that is looking very unlikely for Los Angeles.
Now comes a bullet point list of things that have impressed and disappointed, feel free to add your own:
- Matt Hedges!
- Blas Perez!
- Thierry Henry!
- MLS' attendance!
- Real Salt Lake's entire team!
- Kenny Cooper!
- DC United!
- The shocking number of injuries. Boo!
- Hack-a-hoop play!
- Officiating! (it has been particularly awful this year)
- Peter Nowak
- Peter Vermes' attitude
- Sigi's conspiracy theories
- Everything about the LA Galaxy