The World Cup break in MLS is over, which signals the onset of the second half of the season for the North Americans. The league standings do change dramatically every week, but could this be the year that everyone maintains their same position?
After their abysmal end to the 2013 campaign, wherein head coach Sigi Schmid's future was called into question,the Seattle Sounders started off 2014 with high expectations. Schmid stayed on, and the team made a big splash in the offseason by chopping and changing the squad.
These moves paid off as the Sounders lie at the top of the Western Conference, holding the best record in the league. Seattle has a seven point lead over second place Real Salt Lake, and that's largely due to the club's top earners delivering when called upon.
Last August's blockbuster signing, Clint Dempsey, recovered from his poor 2013 thanks to a full winter to prepare. The American international has improved greatly, scoring eight goals. His teammate, Obafemi Martins, has also bagged eight, per Whoscored.com.
As the second half of the campaign gets underway, it appears as if no one is going to trump Seattle for that top seed in the West, although they lost 1-0 in their last game versus the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place in the Cascadia Cup Derby.
The Sounders face the Portland Timbers in their next match, and if this game is anything like their last encounter, it could be another tough test for Seattle. Things don't get easier as they battle the Los Angeles Galaxy the following weekend. Those two affairs will show everyone whether the Emerald City are contenders or pretenders.
Over in the Eastern Conference, DC United have been the team to beat, but the defending MLS Cup champions, Sporting Kansas City, are right on their tails with 26 points, just two points behind. SKC forward Dom Dwyer is tied for second in the Golden Boot race with 12 goals, and he’s been responsible for keeping the team afloat.
SKC’s head coach, Peter Vermes should take all of the plaudits as he had to deal with almost every starting defender going down with an injury at some point during the first half of the season.
Sporting welcomed back American internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi in their 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire. It sure looked like Vermes could have used Besler, who did not suit up, as the defense committed several errors in that match. The attack looked strong, but Kansas City's success will depend on the health and performances of their back line.
Meanwhile, DC has only lost three times in their last 14 games. United have defeated SKC, Toronto FC, Houston and New York. Head coach Ben Olsen needs forward Fabian Espindola to continue to contribute. The Argentinean has seven goals to go along with eight assists, and he is tied for the league lead with Portland's Diego Valeri, per MLSSoccer.com. However, Espindola’s knee injury could throw those plans into turmoil.
DC’s defense has to stay rock solid as they have been most of the year. Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke have been terrific in the centre, while Steve Birnbaum has filled in admirably for Parke, so the options are there.
Across the league, the fight for the playoffs is going to be interesting to watch. Toronto went six matches unbeaten before falling 2-1 to DC in their last match. New York is sticking around, as is every team, even bottom dweller Montreal Impact are only six points behind with a game in hand.
The Western Conference is just as intriguing with Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, and Vancouver Whitecaps all within three points of each other between second and fifth place. Even Portland and LA are close at just four points out of the playoff picture.
It's never a dull moment in Major League Soccer. The second half of the season is certainly going to be an entertaining ride.
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