Monday, July 2, 2012

Just Which Team is "The Best" of MLS?

Article by Luke Lohr

With the All-Star break on the horizon, conversations tend to steer towards who the best players in MLS are and who deserves the call up. However, now the those questions lend themselves to the follow up of which team in the league deserves the title of "best".

In sports, stats and standings do not always tell the whole story, nor do trophies or titles. Still, all have credence and in a league so often riddled with parity, there is no clear definition of "best". For now though, we have form and standings to serve as evidence.

At present the San Jose Earthquakes have more points than any other in the league with 36 and  17 games played. Four wins in the last five league matches, including an impressive come back victory against the surging LA Galaxy. Remarkably, the team is devoid of typical "stars" outside of Chris Wondolowski, who is currently on track to score more than 20 goals this season and at the moment boast 14. Wondo is third in the league for shots and shots on goal. Still, one player is hardly enough to lift his team to "best".

What makes the Earthquakes special is that they are comprised of largely blue collar players who continue to produce results. The Goonies "Never say die" attitude seems real and is evidenced in their play. The work rate of players like Shea Salinas, Steven Lenhart, Marvin Chavez and Ramiro Corrales serve as fantastic examples of what makes the Earthquakes unique.  None of those players, or any other on the roster for that matter, would command spectacular transfer fees or outlandish salaries. Nonetheless, they sit atop of the league with remarkable wins of late. Defeating Salt Lake and LA is no easy task, regardless of rankings. A heated loss to the flaccid Seattle Sounders in US Open Cup play serves as the only black mark in recent memory for critics to point to as negative evidence.

Perhaps the only other team that could be considered a contender for "best" would be the quietly dominating team wearing black and red. DC United has compiled an impressive 33 points in 18 matches and also have four wins in the last five league matches. United is still getting the now normal miracles out of Dwayne De Rosario, but also boast the returned to health and form Chris Pontius. Pontius is contributing on the field in both offensive and defensive ways, including goals and assists. It's likely that Chris Pontius has caught the attention of Jurgen Klinsmann and perhaps teams overseas. His contributions coupled with DeRo and a back line that has found a way to hold its own have allowed DC to leapfrog all of the talent in the Eastern Conference.

If DC United is to maintain this form, they'll need more consistent performances from Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi and Andy Najar. Santos has combined well with De Rosario, but Salihi and Najar have been spotty at best.

Still, question of "best" still looms and it's the determination of this writer that the best team in Major League Soccer is the San Jose Earthquakes. It is not only the standings and points accumulated that serve to support the decision. Rather it is the play on the field and the ability to defeat teams that are arguably comprised of more talent. Credit must be given to both players and coach in San Jose. We had Frank Yallop on a recent episode of "Off The Bench" and he praised the team's attitude and determination, though humbling deflecting credit himself.

Other teams of note based on recent form include the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy. While not exactly top of the standings, the on field performances of each group are worthwhile. Keep an eye on all of them to make a push for the tops of their respective conferences in the aftermath of the All-Star match.

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