The lingering image of the 2011 MLS season was of David Beckham raising the MLS Cup high above his head in celebration. Then once Beckham surprised just about everyone by turning down French big spenders PSG to stay in Los Angeles, the Galaxy began to take on the aura of a “super club.”
With Beckham back on the books, and the return of Juninho and Edson Buddle, rival teams wondered just how the Galaxy fit all of that talent under the salary cap, and prognosticators struggled to find ways for Los Angeles to improve on last year’s double, the Supporters Shield as the regular season champs, and the MLS Cup.
Then the games began. A shock exit from the Concacaf Champions League to Toronto at the quarter final stage took one potential honor off the table. Giving up four goals to the offensively challenged Toronto F.C. was simply stunning. Without the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year, Omar Gonzalez, the air tight Galaxy back line was suddenly springing leaks.
The regular season offered little respite and the Galaxy found themselves propping up the Western Conference standings with a 1-3-0 record more than a month into the new season. Of course the Galaxy have the time and talent to turn things around, and they most likely will, but the MLS’ first super team has their work cut out for them.
On the more positive side of things Sporting K.C. seem to be taking that step from promising to legit. Coach Peter Vermes has his side playing an aggressive 4-3-3, that barely gives the opposition time to breathe. Kei Kamara and last season’s Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong are providing the early goals, while Teal Bunbury recovers from a desultory performance for the U23’s. Veteran Bobby Convey is combining well with opposite winger Kamara and Graham Zusi is piling up the assists.
Vermes has a versatile side that, at least early on, is living up the preseason hype, as they look to improve on last season’s 2-0 Conference Final loss to Houston.
As big a story as any in the league has been the Red Bull team that Thierry Henry has seemingly willed into winners. The first two games looked like a case of same old Red Bulls as New York opened with losses to F.C. Dallas and Real Salt Lake.
Visa problems kept Luke Rodgers, Henry’s preferred strike partner last season, out of the country. That left youngster Juan Agudelo, who would leave to join the U23’s only to get injured, and the enigmatic Kenny Cooper, to partner Henry.
Just back from a successful loan spell with Arsenal, those first two losses saw Henry in a frustrated mood, one he did little to conceal. Each misplaced pass from a teammate brought forth from the Frenchman a display of arm waving and grimaces. But somehow it worked.
Henry was done playing nice, and the turnaround began with a 4-1 drubbing of the Colorado Rapids. Henry scored two goals and Cooper claimed the other two. Henry was dragging the Red Bulls up by their bootstraps. Dax McCarty began playing well in the midfield, rookie Ryan Meara solidified the goalkeeper position, occasional lapse aside, and Cooper and Henry have kept rattling the twines.
The Red Bull strikers are first and second in MLS in goals, with seven for Henry and six for Cooper, and Henry has won an unprecedented three straight Player of the Week awards. How long they can keep it up remains to be seen, but if Henry can stay healthy he may carry the Red Bulls somewhere special.
Back in the Western Conference, that Real Salt Lake top the table is unsurprising, but that San Jose is nipping at their heels? Now, that’s a shocker. Led by manager Jason Kreis RSL have fought off the injury bug to climb the standings. The face, and hair, of the franchise remains Kyle Beckerman. The dreadlocked midfielder is a hard nosed leader that is not afraid to do the dirty work.
Nick Rimando continues to be as good a goalkeeper as there is in MLS and in the wake of the U.S. failure in Olympic qualifying, all eyes will be on 18 year old midfielder Luis Gil, who continues to thrive under Kreis.
When MLS fans think of the San Jose Earthquakes, if they think of them at all, they probably think about Chris Wondolowski. And when you think about Chris Wondolowski, you think about goals. After an unspectacular first few MLS seasons Wondo hit his stride in 2010, winning the Golden Boot with 18 goals. He followed that with a league tying 16 last season, and shows no signs of slowing down with six goals in San Jose’s first five games of 2012.
Playmaking midfielder Sam Cronin has been a catalyst and coach Frank Yallop has gotten good contributions from Ramiro Corrales, Tressor Moreno, Shea Salinas, and veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch, among others. Veteran striker Alan Gordon recently notched his first goal of the season in a 3-1 victory over Vancouver, and if he can chip it with a handful of goals it could take some pressure off of Wondolowski, and increase San Jose’s chances of extending this good run into something more.
Two of the greatest moments of the young season came early from two of the league’s newest teams. Even watching on television, the Portland Timbers fans raised goosebumps when all of Jeld-Wen Field belted out the Star Spangled Banner with one, slightly off key, joyously raucous voice.
Not to be outdone, the expansion Montreal Impact, pulled out all the stops in their home opener, as 58,912 fans piled into Stade Olympique, a very promising start for MLS’s 19th franchise.
Although neither team is playing great in the early going, that sort of fan support should buy both franchise’s time to build. That sort of patience is less likely to be extended to the Galaxy whose fans will be expecting a quick reversal in form. A month from now the standings could be turned upside down, or not. That’s what makes it fun.