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Eastern Conference Championship

Expected/unexpected from the first half

When will Preki return from injury to help the Kansas City Wizards?

Photo Credit: 
Edward Zurga Jr./MLS/WireImage.com

it's no longer about feeling out the competition and just trying to stay in the thick of things. For some clubs, it's now about getting victories no matter where the game is or who the opponent is.

There'll undoubtedly be more drama in the second half of the season, especially during the all-important stretch run in September and October. The way it all looks right now, nothing is certain, so expect a few surprises.

Being that the All-Star break will be upon us at the close of the three Wednesday night tilts around the league, here's a look at what was surprising and not so surprising during the first half of the year.

I'm surprised that John Spencer only has one goal at the break. It's not like he hasn't been playing, as he's started 11 matches and made 12 appearances. He's also second on the team in shots with 27 behind Chris Henderson (35). Without that bit of magic he had both last year and in 2001 when he found the back of the net 14 times each season, Colorado just doesn't look the same.

I'm not surprised that Carlos Ruiz is tied for the league lead with 10 goals. Put him in any league -- the English Premier League, La Liga in Spain, etc. -- and he'd find a way to score.

I'm surprised that much more hasn't been made of the play of Chad Marshall. The Columbus Crew's rookie center back has quickly become one of the league's top central defenders, as well as one of the three or four players around the league that has to be marked with precision on corner kicks and re-starts from 30-40 yards out when the situation calls for served balls into the box. There's no way he shouldn't have made the All-Star team.

I'm not surprised that the following back three were able to keep Columbus off the board this past weekend: Antonio de la Torre, Nat Borchers and Joey DiGiamarino. Of course, goalkeeper Joe Cannon was the key piece to that puzzle, and is the main reason the Rapids were able to grind out a tie at home.

I'm surprised that it's July 28 and Preki still isn't back on the field.

I'm not surprised that Joe-Max Moore is injured.

I'm surprised that Freddy Adu has only two goals.

I'm not surprised that non-soccer people are talking about how he should be playing 90 minutes per game.

I'm surprised that Steve Nicol has experimented with different systems, including a 3-5-2 and a 4-5-1. The injury bug isn't a new thing in Revs land, and he never pulled out of the 4-4-2 before.

I'm not surprised that guys like Pat Noonan, Clint Dempsey and Shalrie Joseph have excelled in multiple positions.

I'm surprised that Jaime Moreno is leading D.C. United in scoring with four goals and 7 assists. After his injury woes during a wasted 2003 season with the Metros, I figured that's the last we'd ever hear from the Bolivian striker.

I'm not surprised that David Stokes has played himself out of the D.C. United lineup.

I'm surprised that some guy named Jean-Philippe Peguero is leading the Rapids in scoring, and that a pair of undrafted rookies from the past two years -- Jordan Cila and Borchers -- are third and fourth on the chart.

I'm not surprised that Johnsonville Buck-a-Brat nights are back at Crew Stadium. I also won't be surprised when I receive another 100 press releases telling me so.

I'm surprised that Clarence Goodson hasn't seen more time for Dallas. The seventh pick of the 2004 SuperDraft has seen time in one MLS match (68) minutes to go with a few appearances in U.S. Open Cup play.

I'm not surprised that both Joseph Ngwenya and Ned Grabavoy have come in as rookies and contributed to the Los Angeles Galaxy. When I watched Sigi Schmid's club play two matches during the preseason, Grabavoy was the best player on the field one night, and Ngwenya showed his explosiveness in both matches. Throw in the contributions of sixth-rounder Chris Aloisi, and the Galaxy staff has a reason to be proud of how they used their picks.

I'm surprised that the Revolution are averaging 12,006 fans a game. I'll never get it. You have a gorgeous new stadium, the most exciting rookie in the league, and yet attendance is down. My answer to this problem can be solved in three simple words: Matt Reis Bobblehead Day (OK, four). Someone get on this.

I'm not surprised that Los Angeles leads the league in attendance. A. The Galaxy are now playing a much more attractive brand of soccer. B. I'd be content for two hours attending a referee seminar if it was in the Home Depot Center, never mind a weekend match.

I'm surprised that Dallas (6-6-5) doesn't having a losing record, and that it sits two points ahead of a side like San Jose at the All-Star break.

I'm not surprised that Bob Bradley reached 100 career wins before the All-Star break.

I'm surprised that Glenn "Mooch" Myernick hasn't been given the manager position for the new Utah franchise already, with Mike Jeffries as his assistant.

I'm not surprised that a GM hasn't been named for the Utah franchise. With the current soccer environment in this country, it's a lot more difficult to find a good GM who knows the league inside and out and has the business sense to make it work than to find coaches.

I'm surprised that Chicago carries an eight-game winless streak into Wednesday night's match with the Rapids in Colorado. For those yelling at the screen, last week's victory over Columbus in the U.S. Open Cup doesn't count. We're talking league games here. Saying "bye, bye" to DaMarcus Beasley doesn't help right now, does it?

I'm not surprised that Chicago's streak has come during a time when Ante Razov has not been available due to a right ankle injury. Say what you want about Razov, but Chicago just doesn't invoke the same fear in the eyes of opposing defenders without his powerful left foot looming as a weapon.

I'm surprised that Danny Szetela comes off on TV as though he's never had media training before. Isn't that part of the deal done in Bradenton, Fla.? If so, I'd like to know the curriculum.

I'm not surprised that most of the best people to talk to in each locker room are goalkeepers, including Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles), Pat Onstad (San Jose), Jonny Walker (MetroStars) and old favorite Tony Meola (Kansas City).

I'm surprised that not one MLS coach has been fired thus far. Columbus' Greg Andrulis nearly had to pick up the white courtesy phone back at the beginning of the season, and Tim Hankinson is always a few losses away from an ouster in Colorado. Will all 10 make it to 2005? No way.

I'm not surprised that an old sly fox like Bob Gansler has taken a team without nearly as much talent as five or six other clubs around the league, and put them in a position to go into the All-Star break with the top record in all of Major League Soccer.

I'm surprised that the following players didn't score a goal during the first half of the season: Beasley, Mark Chung, Bobby Convey and Cobi Jones.

I'm not surprised that Amado Guevara leads the league with 44 fouls committed.

I'm surprised that Jim Smith left the Columbus Crew GM position for a front office job with the Atlanta Falcons. Only Peter Wilt of the Chicago Fire emits the same sort of passion for his club and city that Smith did during his time with the Crew.

I'm not surprised that trades rumors haven't been running rampant around the league. Of course, that's due to the tough salary cap and the current player designation system in place. Remember, American sports fans love nothing more than trade talks.

I'm surprised that we're seeing an East vs. West format in the All-Star Game this Saturday. But pleasantly surprised. Whatever the format -- and I can live with a couple different ones -- let's please stick with it for at least a decade before tampering with it.

I'm not surprised that ... or, shall I say, I won't be surprised when a fight breaks out in the Celebration Game preceding the All-Star Game. First of all, there are not enough balls to keep the guys on the world team happy -- even as late 30- and 40-somethings -- and that U.S. group still has some bite.

(You think Waldo was joking about kicking someone?)

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at shaketiller10@yahoo.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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