With the World Cup starting today, there’s a hidden storyline here: The MLS will be taking two weeks off. And by hidden, I mean most people don’t care. Fairly ironic for me to say, “most people don’t care,” especially considering I care. And especially considering how much of an MLS-apologist I am. However, relative to the passion there is for the US Men’s National Team, and the passion for the game as a whole, the fervor and love for MLS just isn’t there. Nevertheless, there are fans – I among them – who are followers of the MLS and with the World Cup forcing a reprieve on the league, let’s take a look at where things stand right now, as well as some storylines from around the league.
Eastern Conference Standings
|2||New England Revolution||23||14||7||5||2||3|
|3||Sporting Kansas City||22||15||6||5||4||7|
|5||New York Red Bulls||18||15||4||5||6||0|
Western Conference Standings
|1||Seattle Sounders FC||32||15||10||3||2||9|
|2||Real Salt Lake||25||15||6||2||7||4|
|8||San Jose Earthquakes||16||13||4||5||4||1|
And let’s also take a look at the stats leaders through the first 3+ months of the season.
- Eric Kronberg, Sporting Kansas City. The 31-year old out of Cal had been a backup to Jimmy Nielsen for many years but with Nielsen retiring at the end of last season’s MLS Cup victory, Kronberg has taken full advantage of his opportunity. He leads all keepers who’ve played at least five matches in GAA (0.93), shutouts (6) and ranks sixth among keepers who’ve played at least 10 games in save percentage (69%).
- Jon Busch, San Jose Earthquakes. Busch has been in Major League Soccer for over a decade and the 37-year old is off to yet another great start, posting a 1.08 GAA (3rd among qualified keepers), a league-best 77% save percentage, and four shutouts (T-4th). San Jose may be well out of the playoff places right now but they have games in hand and frankly, defense and goalkeeping have not been their problem; it’s scoring that’s troubled them.
- Clint Irwin, Colorado Rapids. This is only the second season for the 25-year old out of Elon University, but Irwin is not experiencing a sophomore slump. Irwin has started 11 of the Rapids’ 15 matches and has five shutouts (T-2nd in MLS), a 1.27 GAA and a 66% save percentage.
Other News, Notes, and Storylines
- Yes, I am biased, but the Sounders are off to an amazing start to 2014, putting up 32 points in 15 matches played. Seattle has won their last five matches at home – the longest home winning streak in MLS this season – by an aggregate score of 13-3. With the exception of one match – their 5-0 loss to the Revolution at Foxboro – the Sounders have seen fantastic results for more than two months. How have they done it? Well, they’ve shed the likes of Michael Gspurning (sitting on the bench in Greece), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni (Chicago Fire), Mauro Rosales (Chivas USA), and Eddie Johnson (DC United). Taking their place have been forwards Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett (who have provided valuable contributions off the bench), Chad Marshall (who has been a stud on the backline for the Sounders so far this year), and midfielders Marco Pappa and Gonzalo Pineda have both experienced great resurgences for the Sounders.
- The two worst teams in the league include one team that is far from a surprise – Chivas USA – and one team that may be at least slightly more shocking. The Philadelphia Union have a 3-7-6 record, capturing only 15 points through 16 matches played and their 27 goals conceded are second worst in the Eastern Conference behind only the Houston Dynamo. It got bad enough that on Tuesday, the Union sacked manager John Hackworth, replacing him with assistant coach Jim Curtin on an interim basis. Hackworth originally took over on an interim basis on two years to the day Friday, replacing Peter Nowak. Hackworth finishes with a record of 23 wins, 30 losses and 20 draws and he leaves a Union side who are 2-4-1 in their last seven contests, but have scored at least three goals in three of their last four matches. On the field, Philadelphia has been led by veterans Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux who have both come off the bench at times, combining for eight goals and two assists. Also contributing for the Union has been U.S. International Maurice Edu who has returned from Europe to play in the City of Brotherly Love, scoring three goals and two assists while starting in all 14 of the games he’s played in for the Union. (If you’re looking for everything Philadelphia Union – and really soccer/soccer media in general – follow Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald on Twitter @thegoalkeeper ).
- Keep an eye on what players make their way into MLS at the end of the World Cup as the European leagues will still be on break and the transfer window will be open. Also, keep an eye on NYC FC and Orlando City SC, both of whom will be playing their first season in MLS next year and will likely continue to look to secure players going forward.
- One of the bright young stars in 2014 has been midfielder Harry Shipp of the Chicago Fire. The 21-year old was signed as a HGP back in January after coming up through the Fire’s youth academy. Shipp has scored five goals and four assists in the first 13 games of his professional career, including two in Chicago’s 3-2 loss to Seattle on June 7.
- Remember when Toronto brought in Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Julio Cesar in an effort to improve their standing in the Eastern Conference? Early returns are in, and it’s working. Having had to deal with the Canadian Championship, the Reds have played only 11 matches so far, but Defoe has seven goals and one assist in eight of those games and Bradley has joined in by playing solidly in his six MLS games so far. These performances by Toronto FC have led to a greater than 24% increase in attendance as an average of 22,591 are packing BMO Field this season.
- Aight one more point. D.C. United won the U.S. Open Cup last year to qualify for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League. Don’t let that deceive you, however; United were really, really bad. Almost as bad as the stadium they play in. In 2013, D.C. United won only three matches, losing 24 and drawing seven times for a whopping 16 points in 34 matches played. Through 15 matches, D.C. have already more than doubled their win total from last year and sit atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 7-4-4. Key to United’s resurgence has been the attacking prowess of Fabian Espindola (selected from RBNY in the re-entry draft) and Eddie Johnson (acquired from Seattle via trade). Espindola, the 29-year old Argentine who scored nine goals and two assists last year for the Red Bulls in 28 games (23 starts), has already put up eight goals and an MLS-best seven assists in 15 games (14 starts). Johnson however has struggled to recapture his scoring touch from his days at CenturyLink Field, posting only one goal and one assist in 12 games (all starts) and 949 minutes played.
There are 14 U.S. Open Cup games on the docket during MLS’ World Cup break, but the first game back will be Wednesday, June 25 at 10 ET as Vancouver and Montreal will do battle, making up for lost time during the Canadian Championship. That Friday, June 27, will provide us with two more matchups, both of intrigue, as the Red Bulls host Toronto and Portland hosts Sporting Kansas City. On the 28th of June, the Major League Soccer season will be back in full swing and it’ll be full steam ahead through the summer, toward the playoffs and MLS Cup 2014.