PBPP: MLS standings offer plenty of surprises

NY, LA among biggest storylines through season's first third

When you look at the MLS standings in late May, you almost have to look twice to make sure what you are reading is correct. Could it be true that last year's defending champion LA Galaxy are in last place in the Western Conference? From first to worst went the Galaxy, who enter Wednesday's home game vs. San Jose in the midst of a five-game winless streak.

They are in another three-games-in-eight-days stretch that ends Saturday in Houston, and for that game they will be missing Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan due to international call-ups. There is still time to right the ship under Bruce Arena, but the Galaxy need to start winning sooner rather than later. With improved San Jose and even Vancouver looking like playoff contenders, it won't be easy for LA to climb back into the race. Once boasting the league's best defense, the club has yet to record a shutout in 2012. Designated Players Keane, Donovan and David Beckham have combined to score just eight goals.

Like the Galaxy, the Union have gotten off to a very slow start this season. While for the most part the defense has kept them in games, the offense has let them down. Looking ahead to Saturday's game, it's a big one for Philadelphia. Toronto is even more desperate for their first win and points in 2012. For the Union, the return of Freddy Adu should help them break down a Toronto defense that was the worst in MLS in 2011 and is again in 2012.

Keep an eye on the Union injury situation, especially in goal. Zac MacMath missed out on the Dallas game because of concussion symptoms, and his replacement Chase Harrison was beaten up like an NFL running back. From slamming his head and knee in the early moments of the game to an ankle problem late, the 28-year-old gutted it out and helped his team earn a road point. If neither 'keeper is able to go on Saturday, then Chris Konopka would make his Union debut, and just his second start in MLS.

The Union are just five points out of a playoff spot, prior to games being played on Wednesday, so the good news is they are not that far away from the hunt. A winning streak can turn frowns into smiles in a hurry. For now, fifth place in the East is the first hurdle (last playoff spot), since the Red Bulls are 17 points ahead of the Union prior to New York's home game vs. Chivas on Wednesday.

Winners of five straight games, who would have expected New York's run with a rookie goalkeeper leading the way? The unheralded Ryan Meara is leading MLS in saves. With injuries to Thierry Henry and others, plus the suspension to Rafa Marquez, how is New York getting it done? Credit should go to players like Kenny Cooper, Dax McCarty and more recently Joel Lindpere, who have stepped up.

Other good turnaround stories in MLS include both San Jose and Vancouver out west. Everyone thought they would both be improved, but would it be enough to be a playoff team? At the moment, that answer looks to be yes.

There is still a long way to go before the end of the 2012 season, and as we have seen from previous success stories it's not how you start the year, but more so how you finish.
     
The most recent example was Sporting Kansas City, who won just one of their first 10 games last season, yet they ended up winning the Eastern Conference and almost made it to the MLS Cup final. When you look back at Real Salt Lake when they won MLS Cup in 2009, it was their momentum towards the end of the season that kept them going and ultimately made them champions.

A lot of things will change in MLS in the coming weeks due international call-ups for Euro 2012, World Cup Qualifying and the Olympics, injuries and suspensions, trades, and the upcoming transfer window.

Until those chips fall, it's impossible to predict how the MLS standings will look come season's end.

We'll soon start to see how it all plays out.