Roughly halfway through the MLS season, and like many seasons before it, there is a large degree of unpredictability.
One reason why the MLS format (with it's salary cap etc) is a good setup is that it promotes league parody first, and worries about nearly everything else second.
For this reason (and, it should be said, many others) the defending champion often finds itself in a difficult spot.
The 2011 champs, the L.A. Galaxy, are no different, spending much of the early part of this year falling back to earth as abruptly as possible.
Yet as past giants struggle, last year's struggling teams begin to rise. Now, halfway through the newest MLS season, let's see where they stack up:
1. San Jose Earthquakes (11-4-4): Armed with league leading scorer, and one-man bailout machine Chris Wondolowski, the Earthquakes have rattled off several last-second wins so far this year. They're far from being a one-man team, but if anyone asks you who the MVP is so far, make no mistake it's San Jose's talisman.
2. D.C. United (10-5-3): Our first major surprise on the list comes early! D.C., long bereft of any good news (let alone a playoff bid since 2007), have found their groove thanks to a masterful 7-1-2 home record and a resurgent Chris Pontius (9 goals this season).
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3. Real Salt Lake (11-6-3): Always a team to be counted on for style, they've struggled a bit lately, even losing three in a row two weeks ago. However, surviving rough patches is inevitable across an MLS season, and Real have the class to navigate past this point.
4. Sporting Kansas City (10-5-3): After starting the year on fire, and undefeated, K.C. has fallen back to earth. Their defense continues to be immaculate. Yet questions abound about their offense and its effectiveness.
5. New York Red Bulls (9-5-4): As always with New York, the talent is there. And, as always with New York, so is the inconsistency. They were handled in their last game up in New England, 2-0. They will hope to regain a fully healthy Thierry Henry in the second half.
6. Vancouver Whitecaps (8-4-6): Anchored at the back by stalwart center back Jay Demerit, they lead MLS with nine shutouts. And considering they're still a fledgling franchise, their status as a playoff-hunting team is impressive.
7. Seattle Sounders (8-5-6): Always a team that makes a great impression, given their spectacular home crowds and star individuals. Mauro Rosales has six assists (fourth best in the league) and Osvaldo Alonso could probably make it in many European leagues. Yet, they still have to put it together as a team, and in that respect, have a long way to go.
8. Chicago Fire (8-6-4): Their offense looks painfully predictable at times, and this has led to a dearth of goals at times. Still, there is reason to cheer with the return of Chris Rolfe after a prolonged stay in Denmark.
9. Columbus Crew (6-6-4): Robert Warzycha should get a fair amount of credit for keeping this team together through the decimation they took in terms of injuries earlier in the season. Yet like several other MLS squads, they're teetering on the edge of the playoff picture and risking falling off it completely if they can't score more goals soon.
10. New England Revolution (6-7-4): I know, this is a reach, but the Revs have a number of good things that are starting to click for them. On top of the impressive win over New York, they are rounding out a number of solid attacking options in adding Jerry Bengston (who scored on his debut).
11. Houston Dynamo (6-5-7): Like Seattle, they have a a number of impressive individuals likes Brian Chang, Geoff Cameron and Brad Davis. Yet they need to find their collective form if they want to make a dent come playoff time (or even make the playoffs at all).
12. L.A. Galaxy (7-10-2): To paraphrase Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. And so I don't care how many stars the Galaxy have, they played really badly at times in the first half and chalked up 10 losses. While they're completely capable of turning this around in the second half, there's no escaping this rating for them.
13. Chivas USA (5-7-5): Their defense and goalkeeping seem to excel at times. Too bad their offense has been absolutely non-existent for much of the season.
14. Colorado Rapids (7-10-1): It's been often said of the Rapids this year that they were built like a fantasy team, with little thought as to practical, on-the-field matters. Their struggles with set-pieces seem to confirm this.
15. Montreal Impact (6-11-3): Nesta! Nesta! Nesta! And yes, they recently got a gratifying win against Columbus to snap a three-game losing streak.
16. Philadelphia Union (5-9-2): To be fair, their defense hasn't actually been that bad. But their offense? Still searching...
17. Portland Timbers (5-8-4): After firing coach John Spencer midway through his second season, team management is left to answer some questions. They had a respectable home record, though the road record was atrocious. Only time will tell if this was a shrewd move given the timing.
18. Toronto FC (2-11-4): They've showed improvement of late, only losing a five game unbeaten run to the Union. That said, they lost the unbeaten run in a decisive 3-0 loss...
19. FC Dallas (3-9-7): All the ties aside, there's no glossing over the fact that Dallas has been truly bad on the road (0-7-1). Most of the ties (which are supposed to make this record look not so terrible) have come at home (which is terrible). They can only improve in the second half, or so one would think.