Marco Etcheverry

First XI: Let's get it started

You've gotta love it when people go crazy over early-season results in MLS. It shows passion. It shows intensity. It shows ... no sense of history. I believe as the Dean of MLSnet.com columnists it is my job to put things into their proper historical context. You a Chivas fan, bummed out about your team? Take solace. Metro fan? Thinking the end is near? Ah, you forget much of what's happened to your side in the past. Here's a First XI that will shed some light for you on the some fast and slow starts from MLS years past:

11. D.C. United, 1996. The eventual MLS Cup champions started out 0-4 and 1-6. I remember a banner at RFK Stadium that read something like "Go Back to College, Coach." Yeah, that was directed at Bruce Arena, who now walks on water. It took United a little time to get things going in their inaugural campaign. Once Juan Berthy Suarez gave way for Jaime Moreno. Once Marco Etcheverry got in shape. Once Tony Sanneh arrived via some double-secret allocation or something. Once things sorted out, D.C. proved it was one of the classiest teams in the league. By season's end in 1996, the best two teams in the league (and this comes from a conversation with Arena) may well have been United and the MetroStars, who started out 0-3 with two home losses that year.

10. Chicago Fire, 1998. The Fire won their first two games, beating their fellow expansion team, the Miami Fusion 2-0 at Lockhart Stadium. They came home and beat Tampa Bay 2-0 on a pair of goals by hometown hero Frankie Klopas. All was great. Then the Fire got shut out in three in a row and went on to lose their next five. Striker Jerzy Podbrozny was getting booed. Fans were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jorge Campos, and some were even hoping he'd be used as a striker. Then the Fire won 11 consecutive games, Podbrozny settled in as a midfielder. Ante Razov, who began the season on the bench, became their main striker. Jesse Marsch replaced Jorge Salcedo. And before long, the Fire were looking like a team that could contend for a title ... which is exactly what they did, beating D.C. United 2-0 at the Rose Bowl. Suddenly, no one remembered 2-5.

9. Colorado Rapids, 1997. With new coach Mooch Myernick leading the charge, the Rapids, who were a miserable team in 1996, got off to a 1-4 start and looked ready to implode. They got thrashed 5-2 at home by D.C. and lost 4-1 at Dallas. Mooch started to stress defense to this team and before long the Rapids, led by Peter Vermes and Marcelo Balboa, were the prototypical "hard-to-play-against" team. They rode that formula all the way to the MLS Cup Final, where they played D.C. tough at RFK in a 2-1 loss.

8. MetroStars, 2000. The best MetroStars team ever began its season with a 1-4 record. They looked inept in shutout losses at San Jose and home to Columbus. They were 3-6 and looking doomed when Clint Mathis arrived via a dispersal draft. Trades that brought Steve Jolley from Los Angeles and Daniel Hernandez from Tampa Bay bolstered the defense. Mike Ammann won over the hearts of Metro fans, and by season's end, the Metros were battling the Fire into the third game of the Eastern Conference final.

7. Columbus Crew, 2004. Yes, it was only a year ago when we witnessed the Crew getting off to an 0-3-2 start. Some ESPN analyst called them a college team. Many were counting down the clock for coach Greg Andrulis. Then the Crew went 18 games without a loss. At first, it seemed lucky, the way they were winning games even as they were outshot by 15-20 shots. But by the time the season ended and the Crew were holding the MLS Supporters' Shield, Columbus was a true team in every sense of the word.

6. D.C. United, 2004. And we cannot forget that last year's MLS Cup champion D.C. United began the season 1-2-1 and 2-4-3 and the big question was "Where's Freddy?" Some wondered if Peter Nowak was too hard on the boys. No one was sure if Jaime Moreno could return to decent form after three injury-plagued seasons. You know the rest of the story. They only won 11 regular season games, but they won most of them at the right time. And they rode that wave into the playoffs and MLS Cup Final.

5. New England Revolution, 2002. Never has a team come out of nowhere like the '02 Revs, who started the season 3-7-1 and, if this is possible, were worse than that. This team was dead in the water, playing horrific soccer on both ends of the field and that form continued late, late into the season. Then on a rainy night in late August in Chicago, with their playoff hopes fading, the Revs came from a goal down late to beat the Fire and never looked back. Not only did they make the playoffs, they defeated the Fire in a best-of-three playoff series and advanced past the Crew in the conference final. Only that Carlos Ruiz golden goal at Foxboro kept them from raising MLS Cup.

4. MetroStars, 1999. Now we begin to look at some teams that started out well, but ended badly. The worst team in league history, the 1999 MetroStars, actually started out their campaign under Bora Milutinovic with a 3-1 record and looked to be a team with some promise. Eduardo Hurtado looked like he'd score goals with a healthy Tab Ramos setting him up. Alas, those Metros finished 7-25 with three shootout wins. Hurtado was a bust. Ramos got hurt. Even Sasa Curcic could not save the day.

3. MetroStars, 2003. With new coach Bob Bradley at the helm, the 2003 Metros started out 5-1-1 and looked like they might run away with the East. Not really. The '03 Metros used up all of their breaks early (winning some improbable games with late goals) and could get none late. They finished the season 11-10-9, in third place in the East, and bowed out of the playoffs in the first round, losing 3-1 on aggregate to the Revs.

2. Tampa Bay Mutiny, 2001. It is hard to remember, even for the Dean, but the 2001 Mutiny were one awful team. They finished the season 4-21-2 (which makes them only slightly better than the '99 Metros). But they started out 2-1 under Alfonso Mondelo and the buzz was that Mamadou Diallo would have an even better season with Ali Curtis (or Jair or Wojtek Krakowiak, or somebody) playing up front with him. No chance. Diallo scored nine, not for a lack of shots, and the Mutiny died a slow and miserable death.

1. MetroStars, 2002. Man, we've gotten a bit Metrocentric again haven't we? But we round out our list with the 2002 Metros, who began the season as a hot choice to win it all. What with Clint Mathis back from injury and Diego Serna acquired in the dispersal draft, this team would have firepower. In the beginning, it looked good. First-round draft pick Brad Davis had a couple of winners and the Metros were out of the gate with a 3-1 record. However, by the time the season ended, Clint and coach Octavio Zambrano were at odds. And the Metros were on the outside of the playoff picture for the first time since 1997.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at jbradleyespn2003@yahoo.com 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.