MLS 2012: 10 Biggest Surprises so Far
We're two months into the 2012 MLS season and already many of the prognostications of the experts have been thoroughly rebuffed.
Teams that were supposed to be charging up the standings have been scrambling.
And others that were seen as surefire bottom feeders are asserting themselves near the top.
At a more local level, various players have distinguished themselves on levels that few could have imagined.
Surprises abound. Let's look at a few of the biggest.
10. Sebastien Le Toux Playing Well in His New Home
Kidding! This was about as little a surprise as possible. It should be no big mystery how good Le Toux is, having been a franchise player in Philadelphia last season.
The real surprise was the trade which sent Le Toux to Vancouver in January. Whatever Philadelphia's rational, it wasn't a shocker that the man they sent to Canada has kept on ticking.
Barely four minutes into his first game with the Whitecaps, the Frenchman found the net.
9. Chris Pontius
With the defending MVP on their roster, a number of other talented players and a series of high draft picks in their ranks, D.C. United fans can be pleasantly surprised at the ignition Chris Pontius' goal-scoring touch.
After sniping a late winner against New England, he staked a claim for a permanent starting spot.
And his most recent effort (a hat trick against New York) only seems to signal a continuation of his sudden prowess in front of goal.
8. Suddenly Watertight Defenses
Jay Demerit (pictured) and the Vancouver Whitecaps' defense has pitched shutouts in four of their first seven games this season.
That's a far cry from the porous display last year, when they allowed more goals than any other team in the Western Conference.
Other defenses have jumped up a notch, too. Seattle's defense, though not the shabbiest last season, has been truly remarkable this season.
They've only surrendered two goals so far, and this has compensated for a drop-off in goals.
7. Columbus Surviving
The Columbus Crew are having to go through the 2012 season with a much reduced crew.
(OK, poor joke.)
Still, it is true. The Crew have used 19 players in the young season, and if they get hit with any more injuries, that number will expand even farther.
Still, they haven't totally seen their ship sink yet. At 2-3-1, Columbus are hanging in there.
How much longer than can keep this up remains to be seen.
6. New England's Win at L.A.
Despite winning only one away game all of last season, the New England Revolution attacked with no fear in the home of the defending champs on April 1st.
Securing a 3-1 win, they shocked much of the MLS world with their industry and firepower.
It was a spectacular win for new Revs manager Jay Heaps, who had promised the fans that his team would indeed go forward and attack.
5. L.A. Struggles
To be fair, any team that is coming off a championship victory should expect some reversal of fortune (especially in the topsy-turvy MLS).
Still, the Galaxy have struggled mightily in the early going. They have righted the ship in the last two games, but early losses to Real Salt Lake, New England and Kansas City put them in the middle of the pack.
It doesn't seem to be a sustained crisis given their back-to-back wins in the last two weeks, but a lack of goals has been surprising from such an explosive offense.
4. Chivas Pull off Win at Salt Lake
Chivas USA are not the worst team in the league by far. Yet no one could have predicted their slightly miraculous 1-0 win at Real Salt Lake in late March.
Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy played phenomenally, and Chivas claimed one of the truly jaw-dropping wins of the season.
To their credit, Salt Lake haven't gone into a tailspin, though. They continue to challenge for the top spot in the West.
3. D.C. United's Success
United had no problem scoring goals last season at times (only three teams had more goals than them in the entire 2011 MLS season).
Yet they had a problem leaking goals, surrendering the fourth-most goals.
This year, through only a few games, they've managed a third of their wins from last year already.
At 3-2-3, United are tenuously sitting at second in the East. And tenuous as it might be, it's still a vast improvement over last year.
They have a number of exciting players and will look to build on a strong start.
2. Sporting Kansas City Being so Good
No one was really surprised that K.C. has turned out to be a good team.
Yet I'm not sure many predicted them to be this good.
They've literally had MLS in the palm of their hand, and until a recent loss to Portland, they were a perfect 7-0.
This kind of dominance is unusual in MLS, given all the efforts to create parity. Yet behind players like Graham Zusi and MVP candidate Kei Kamara, Sporting have been all-conquering and a joy to watch.
1. San Jose Stepping Up
If you had taken bets on who would be sitting atop the Western Conference after two months, I very much doubt anyone would have guessed San Jose.
Given their disappointing 2011, it's been a breath of fresh air for San Jose fans this season. Chris Wondolowski has continued his free-scoring ways.
And the rest of the team has caught up. At 5-1-1, the Earthquakes' start to the season has been the biggest surprise in MLS this season.