First XI: Big picture parity
While the hot starts of the New England Revolution, Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas have some people prematurely celebrating the end of parity in MLS, those three teams have only gotten my wheels spinning as to how evenly matched the "Old School 10" teams in the league have been over the past two regular seasons.
As you know, the Crew went from a non-playoff team in 2003 to a Supporters Shield winner in '04 and the Fire went from the Shield in '03 to a playoff observer a year ago. That's just the beginning. Take a look at this week's First XI, a bottom-to-top look at MLS standings over the past two seasons.
11. Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas). '03-04 totals: 16 wins, 33 losses, 11 ties, 59 pts.
The bottom feeders by a longshot, but only because of their six-win season in '03. The only team in MLS to miss the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Ah, but finishing out of the playoffs in MLS has its rewards. Allocations and high draft picks have helped to retool Colin Clarke's squad into what looks to be a Cup contender.
10. New England Revolution. '03-04 totals: 20 wins, 22 losses, 18 ties, 78 pts.
Seems Steve Nicol's boys took to heart the criticism that they only showed up for the stretch run and the playoffs. Favorable draft position helped the Revs land Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan. Missing the '01 playoffs helped them land Steve Ralston in the contraction/re-allocation draft. But the Revs also made savvy picks like Shalrie Joseph and, obviously, Clint Dempsey, to situate themselves as the clear-cut best team in the league through the first month and a half of the season.
9. Los Angeles Galaxy. '03-04 totals: 20 wins, 21 losses, 18 ties, 79 pts.
Everyone remembers Sigi Schmid getting the sack with his team in first place a year ago, but the Galaxy were in a bit of a swoon dating back to their victory in the '02 MLS Cup as the above numbers indicate. The Galaxy's goal when Schmid was replaced by Steve Sampson was to become a more exciting team. Hello, Landon. Hello, excitement.
8. D.C. United. '03-04 totals: 21 wins, 21 losses, 18 ties, 81 pts.
What a cup run will do to change the perception of what a team has accomplished during the regular season. What D.C. did a year ago, more than anything, was cash in on the fact that they had the MetroStars' number and beat their archrival five times in a row, including two in a row in the playoffs. So far this season, D.C. is playing to that same .500 form. Perhaps the inclusion of Freddy Adu into the starting team will jumpstart them to bigger and better things.
7. Colorado Rapids. '03-04 totals: 21 wins, 21 lossses, 18 ties, 81 pts.
Surprised to see that the Rapids, who fired coach Tim Hankinson at the end of last season, had an identical record as D.C. the past two years? Again, what a difference a successful playoff campaign can make. The question for the Rapids is, has the window closed on their chance to cash in on the talents of the attacking-midfield tandem of Mark Chung and Chris Henderson, who are both getting on in years?
6. MetroStars. '03-04 totals: 22 wins, 22 losses, 16 ties, 82 pts.
Hot starts to each of the past two seasons did not propel the MetroStars into the league's upper echelon. This year, they're just hoping a sluggish start won't drop them into the drop zone (aka: out of the playoff picture). Metro fans surely remember points the team has coughed up the last two years (especially last season), and when they take a look and see that the league's winningest team in '03-04 (Kansas City) had just three more victories in that 60-game span, it sheds new light on what many see as a team in crisis. The MetroStars need to learn to win some ugly games.
5. Chicago Fire. '03-04 totals: 23 wins, 20 losses, 17 ties, 86 pts.
Tough to replace the likes of DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra and Damani Ralph, but the Fire are trying to do just that, to get back where they were in '03, when they were the league's best regular season team. This Saturday's match with the MetroStars could be an indicator of who's going to grasp the final playoff spot in the East. Then again, I might be reaching a bit. The Fire are a team in transition. Can they do it quickly enough?
4. Columbus Crew. '03-04 totals: 22 wins, 17 losses, 21 ties, 87 pts.
The Crew's 18-game unbeaten streak last year is what took a team that was out of the playoffs in '03 to the best two-year points total in the Old East. All those ties add up. Now, for the second year in a row, the Crew are off to a slow start. Can they bounce back the way they did a year ago? Is Cornell Glen now the full-time starter up top, ahead of Ante Razov? If so, how will Ante react to starting only when Cornell is with Trinidad & Tobago?
3. San Jose Earthquakes. '03-04 totals: 23 wins, 17 losses, 20 ties, 89 pts.
I was pretty surprised to see that the Quakes, winners of MLS Cup 2003, had just one more win than the MetroStars and Crew (and just two more than the Rapids and D.C. United) in the past two seasons. Is the Brad Davis-to-Brian Ching connection going to be potent enough to get the Quakes back to the top? As we can see, it's a fine, fine line.
2. Kansas City Wizards. '03-04 totals: 25 wins, 19 losses, 16 ties, 91 pts.
The Wizards did not become the best regular season team in the league over the past two years by blowing two-goal leads (which they did for the second time in '05 last weekend). No, they became the best by protecting leads like family. Can this group regain that mentality? I have a feeling the answer to that question is "yes." I still look for K.C. to be battling the Revs and D.C. for the top spot in the East by season's end.
1. Let's just update these "Old School 10" standings with '05 results ...
1. San Jose, 98 pts.
2. Kansas City, 97 pts.
3. Chicago, 96 pts.
4. New England, 94 pts.
5. Columbus, 93 pts.
6. Los Angeles, 91 pts.
7. D.C. United, 89 pts.
8. MetroStars, 87 pts.
9. Colorado, 85 pts.
10. Dallas, 70 pts.
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.