At this time last season, the Dallas Burn were suffering. They had just four wins through their first 22 games and were well on their way to the worst season in team history, the first in which they missed the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Making matters worse, the Burn lost midfielder Ronnie O'Brien to a horrifying broken leg at the beginning of May. Shortly after the 2003 All-Star break, the Burn also lost team captain Jason Kreis to an ACL tear. By then, the 2003 season was lost.
But, out of the ashes of last year, the Burn rose strengthened and hungry to rid themselves of the bitter taste in their mouths. Talk prior to the 2004 season centered on the club's new beginning as the players put the past behind them.
The new beginning came for the Burn, and three players who have featured in the Burn's revival have been honored with selections to the 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game. In 2004, the Burn have their top guns back.
O'Brien returned with a new vigor and has become a playmaker on the right side of the field, dazzling with his perfectly placed passing and field vision. The Irish international earned his first All-Star selection -- and start -- as a reward for that ability.
Not to be outdone, Kreis returned from the knee injury and, without wasting much time, became the league's all-time leading goal-scorer. On June 26, Kreis notched his 89th career MLS goal to surpass former MLS striker Roy Lassiter and become the league's king of goals.
In addition to providing scoring for the Burn -- his five goals are second on the team -- Kreis has leant his leadership to the club, as he has done in each of his eight previous MLS seasons. MLS Commissioner Don Garber chose Kreis to participate in the All-Star Game as one of two "Commissioner's picks" in honor of everything Kreis has meant to the Burn and MLS.
Another sore spot for the Burn in 2003 was the defense. The team allowed 64 goals in 30 games, the most in the league by a wide margin. As part of his club overhaul, new head coach Colin Clarke brought in several defenders, including Cory Gibbs, who makes his first MLS All-Star appearance and start this year. Gibbs, who spent three years with German club St. Pauli, joined MLS and the Burn in the preseason, and the difference has been obvious.
Despite some injuries, Gibbs has been a key part of a vastly improved Burn defense, which is in the top half of the league in goals against to this point in the season. Gibbs' move home to the United States and subsequent league performance has helped him become a part of the U.S. national team, which is in the midst of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.
After a forgettable 2003 season which saw no Burn players appear in the MLS All-Star Game, the Burn have started anew thanks in large part to a handful of stars who are -- rightly, it can be argued -- being honored at the league's midsummer showcase this season.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.