Five Thoughts on the first third of the MLS season

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MLS Beat Writer

We are through 12 weeks — roughly a third of the Major League Soccer season — and trends are just starting to emerge about where 2015 is headed.

No One Has Jumped In Front Of The Pack Just Yet

Through 12 weeks in 2014, the eventual Supporters’ Shield winners Seattle Sounders were already atop the MLS standings. They had 26 points, two ahead of Real Salt Lake, and New England was the only other team above 20.

The standings are tighter in 2015. DC leads the early Shield race with just 22 points, but there are four teams within two points of them. There’s still plenty of time for someone—why not DC?— to break away from the pack, but early signs point toward this year’s race being more like 2013, with several teams involved until the very end.

Seattle happens to be one of the teams just behind DC, with 20 points through 11 matches. Their goal difference of +8 is the best in the league; no one else is better than +4. They certainly have the talent to replicate last year’s success.

The West Is Best … Again

We expected this going into the year, but the current standings paint a bleak picture of conference balance. Every team in the Western Conference has at least 13 points. Colorado sits in last place, but in the East, they’d be level on points with Orlando in the final playoff spot.

I don’t expect this geographic gap to be nearly as apparent by the time the year ends. For one, teams out west have to play each other more often, making for tougher schedules that haven’t been made apparent just yet. And teams in New York and Orlando are bound to be active in the summer transfer window.

All Expansion Teams Aren’t Created Equal

Speaking of New York and Orlando, the difference in quality between the two expansion sides has been stark. They drew on opening day, but Orlando has looked much better since. The Lions would be a playoff team if the season ended today, while NYCFC finds themselves with the fewest points in MLS.

Orlando had a few advantages over their expansion counterparts, and so far they’ve made the most of them. They had a bit of stability, with players and a manager coming up from the USL together. Their big DP, Kaka, has been healthy, productive, and present. The number one pick in the SuperDraft, Cyle Larin has already scored four goals, just behind Kaka for the team lead.

New York fans can point to David Villa’s injury and Frank Lampard’s impending arrival, but the larger cause for concern should be a defense that hasn’t kept a clean sheet since week three. City is winless in their last 10 matches. Even with an expanded playoffs, NYCFC is six points out of the picture already.

Sebastian Giovinco Has Lived Up To The Hype

There were some contrarians who suggested that the 5’5″ Italian midfielder would struggle to adapt to the more physical play of MLS.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. In 10 games, Giovinco has five goals and four assists. His goals have been impressive things: free kicks, long shots, individual runs — and the assists are nearly as pretty.

In Toronto, there is hope that at last the Reds will make the playoffs — and the Atomic Ant is perhaps the biggest reason why.

Depth Is A MUST

There have already been too many hamstring injuries to MLS players this year. Robbie Keane, Jozy Altidore, and David Villa are the most prominent figures to miss games due to hamstring issues, but the same injury bug has also plagued guys like Graham Zusi, Pedro Ribeiro, Jose Villarreal, Ronald Zubar and Aurelien Collin.

Portland has been without key players Will Johnson and Diego Valeri for most of the season. Joao Plata only returned to RSL on Saturday. In Columbus, Wil Trapp has missed more than a month with a concussion. Cameron Porter and Dilly Duka in Montreal, Innocent Emeghara in San Jose … the list goes on.

Some teams have been able to withstand their injuries. Others, not so much.

Now is the part of the season when depth comes into play for other reasons. The U-20 World Cup has claimed players like Matt Miazga and Jordan Allen for the next few weeks. MLS sides enter the Open Cup next month, and teams who make deep runs will need equally deep squads to handle the midweek matches. And in July, the Gold Cup will see many of the league’s stars leave their clubs to represent their respective countries.

Depth has never been a word closely associated with MLS sides. However, with the new USL partnerships, this new era of development will be tested.

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  • Pray tell,who on gods green earth was a Giovinco non believer before the season started?

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