Major League Soccer has had a very interesting start to its 2016 season, with a number of teams getting off to great starts and exceeding expectations in the hopes of mounting a serious claim to an MLS Cup run. Along with those pleasant surprises has come drama in some of the league’s more successful teams as well as some resurgent performances from players who were previously thought to be at the end of the productive part of their professional careers. These are the five biggest surprises in MLS to this point in the season.
5. Columbus Crew Drama
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 12, 2016
One of the best teams in MLS, the Columbus Crew, were finalists for last year’s MLS Cup, which they lost to the eventual champion Portland Timbers. Despite the loss, the Crew were assumed to be in a good position for this year, where they would surely be considered one of the favorites to return to the MLS Cup Final out of the Eastern Conference. What has happened instead this season has been nothing short of a disaster, as the team has not only been one of the worst in MLS, but have also lost one of their biggest impact players early in this campaign.
The key player Columbus has lost is forward Kei Kamara, who was the league’s leading goal scorer last season. In that campaign Kamara notched 26 goals, topping second place Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC by a nice four goal margin. Kamara’s playmaking abilities are among the best in recent MLS history, and his finishing ability unmatched along with his ability to carry his team to the highest level of Major League Soccer competition. Kamara, however, will not be with the Crew any longer after some team chemistry issues this season.
Kamara was reportedly upset about not being allowed to take a penalty kick won by one of his teammates, given that he was closing in on a hat trick for that match. His demeanor carried on until after the match, at which point words were exchanged between Kamara and the team’s manager. As a result, Kamara has been traded to DC United, where he will have plenty of chances to continue to be an elite player.
4. Orlando City’s Struggles
Orlando City is a relatively new team to Major League Soccer in just their second year in the league, but they have not done as well as many expected them to, and one has to think that the pressure will be on them to perform at a higher level over the course of this season to make a run at the MLS playoffs. Given some of the players they have brought into the fold, there is no excuse for the team not to be better.
Of course, Orlando City has the highest salary in all of MLS, that belonging to Brazilian star Kaka, who has proven that he is well past his prime at this stage in his career. They also have former Brazil and Arsenal player Julio Baptista in their roster, who is at a stage where he is not productive enough to be spending big money on. Overall, Orlando City look like a tale of financial mismanagement more often than not.
3. Portland Goes Timber
FT: Portland 1, NYCFC 2. Three wins in a row for NY, who hand Timbers their first 3-game losing streak since 2012. pic.twitter.com/hQNa1B86li
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 16, 2016
What a disappointment the Portland Timbers have been this season. MLS Cup winners last year, the Timbers were supposed to follow up on that highly successful campaign by continuing to compete as one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. That has not happened, though, as the team find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference and having trouble getting anything from more than one of their players.
The one productive player in Portland’s team is Fanendo Adi. Adi was the fourth leading goal scorer in MLS last season, and is pacing to be the same this year with an impressive eight goals through the team’s first twelve games. The only problem is that the team around him is failing to match Adi’s production, and that has shown in the results. Excluding Adi, the Timbers have put just nine goals in during the first twelve games of the season, a total that won’t get it done if Portland is to repeat as champions.
2. Seattle Sounders Slipping
Despite a great home field advantage, the Seattle Sounders have had trouble to start the Major League Soccer campaign, losing five of their first twelve games. They have only scored ten goals and have conceded twelve, which means that there could be cause for optimism among Sounders fans as their defense has the potential to carry them through this offensive rough patch until they get things figured out and back on track. Either way, with teams like FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids off to great starts in the West, the Sounders can’t afford to get too far behind the six teams on pace to reach the MLS Playoffs.
1. New York City Standing Tall
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 20, 2016
After a disastrous inaugural campaign from New York City FC, it looked like their designated player signings of Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Andrea Pirlo were huge wastes. And while Lampard has confirmed his status as a wasteful signing, Pirlo and Villa have been great to this point in the campaign and NYCFC find themselves atop the Eastern Conference standings for now.
Villa, who looked inconsistent with his touch at times last year, is tied for the league lead with eight goals, while Pirlo has two assists and has looked much improved from last season, where he looked like he could not possibly care less about anything going on around him. If these two can continue to work well with the young core that NYCFC is building, they will be in great position to become one of the marquee teams in Major League Soccer.
Surely there are more surprises to come this season in Major League Soccer, but the season has not disappointed so far in the way of drama and intrigue, something that critics say is lacking in the United States’ top flight.
By: Jason Sanin