First XI: Shocking ... or not

a forward who can make something out of nothing if ever there was one -- but more a surprise that the Rapids, without Mark Chung and Chris Henderson, could possibly have a forward with eight goals already. Sure, a hat trick can give a quick boost to a guy (just ask the Fire's Nate Jaqua), but Cunningham has only started six games for the Rapids. Still, if I were a betting man, I'm picking Carlos Ruiz to win the Golden Boot.

8. Not Shocking. The Clint Mathis Goal Drought. Thirteen games, all starts, and no goals -- and just four shots on goal -- for the former SI coverboy. This does not surprise me. For a while now, Mathis has been playing more like an American version of (then 36-year-old) Hristo Stoitchkov than the attacking marvel we saw in 2000 and 2001. Like Hristo, Mathis is full of tricks and one day just may fool a 'keeper with one of those long lobs, but the old Clint Mathis is long gone by now. And I'll be shocked if that player ever returns.

7. Shocking. Alexi Lalas Takes Over the MetroStars. Who saw this coming? Greg?

6. Not Shocking. Youri Djorkaeff Can Play. Sure, The New York Times may consider him one of the five worst signings in MLS history, but if you saw Djorkaeff playing and starting every game at Bolton, when he was 35 and 36 years old, you knew what he'd bring to the MetroStars. The heat and FieldTurf may keep him off the field at times, but when you consider that he's playing for way, way below the max, signing a guy like Djorkaeff was, according to First XI, anyway, the biggest no-brainer in MLS history.

5. Shocking. Alecko Eskandarian's Goal Drought. No way I would have thought, after watching his marksmanship a year ago, that Alecko would be looking for his first goal in 2005. In United's scoreless draw at the Meadowlands a couple of weeks ago, Esky was simply snake-bitten, missing narrowly a couple of times and being denied by Zach Wells twice. Goal scoring is a funny thing, however. If Alecko can get that first one, watch out.

4. Not Shocking. Freddy Adu Still a Role Player in MLS. I'll compare it to when Doug Flutie tried to move to the NFL after a long time in Canada. Teams full of NFL vets and old coaches were not going to clear the deck and change the way they do their business simply to get an exciting little quarterback on the field. Freddy Adu may one day be a great player in MLS -- or maybe even somewhere else in the world -- but in order for him to get on the field more regularly, he's going to have to show his teammates that he's out there to do more than just play for the crowd. Unless, of course, they want to re-build Chivas USA around him. Now, there's an idea. They should be willing to clear the deck.

3. Shocking. FC Dallas is Rock Solid. Not the first time I've said it, but missing the playoffs in MLS is not the worst thing that can happen to a team that wants to rebuild. The Burn, after missing the playoffs two years in a row, are lined up to win it all this year. Why? They've utilized all the mechanisms -- draft picks and allocations (a.k.a. money) -- to put together a roster that, from top to bottom, is the best in MLS. Those home hoops could use a little work (so NASL), but that's getting a little nit-picky.

2. Not Shocking. The Struggles of the Columbus Crew. Yeah, I'm contradicting an earlier column when I thought they looked ready to defend their Supporters Shield, but that was back when it looked like Ante Razov and Edson Buddle would click and the rest of the team would feed off that "You Can't Beat Us" mentality they built a year ago. Upon further review, the Crew were pretty magical a year ago, winning and tying games in which they were outplayed badly. Razov's failure to fit in hurt a lot, and now the Crew are looking for a quick remedy. There's hope, however. Edson Buddle and Cornell Glen have the potential to score some sick goals if the Crew can keep their own net clean.

1. Shocking. Bob Bradley In a Suit. Same one he wore to my rehearsal dinner, I think.

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

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