Now that the 2011 MLS season has reached cruise control a few teams are beginning to separate themselves from the pack, although not entirely in a good way.
At the beginning of the year a few clubs were considered favorites for the Supporters' Shield and to make a run for the 2011 MLS Cup. There were the big money clubs Los Angeles Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls, plus defending MLS Cup champ Colorado Rapids and runner-up Dallas FC and Real Salt Lake.
The consensus was that out of these five teams that RSL was the cream of the crop with a deep and talented squad that played a very attractive brand of soccer, and whose reserves could start on other MLS teams.
At the start of the season all of that seemed true. Real won its first MLS game on the road and followed that up with a 4-1 throttling of L.A. at home. A few weeks later RSL played its reserves on the road against New England and won by two while advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League Final.
Since that final, Real has only scored twice in four games. Its defense is still the best in the league having allowed only two goals in MLS play thus far) but RSL's inability to score in recent play plagues the once crowned prince of MLS.
L.A. on the other hand is rolling. At the start of the year the Galaxy played a majority of their games without Landon Donovan and now that he is back, LLos Angeles is finding the back of the net by scoring eight in five games played, while getting points on the road against other top clubs FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls have shown flashes of brilliance in recent games all while protecting the net and have the second-lowest goals allowed behind RSL. FC Dallas has found its stride as well by winning four of their last five, including three without reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira.
Colorado hasn't fared so well. The Rapids flew out of the gates winning their first three in MLS play but have only managed to get three points since then.
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The biggest surprise of the season has to be Chivas USA. Ex-RSL assistant Robin Fraser got his team off to a poor start losing their first three, but since then it has only lost once since. Chivas USA's biggest win came last night as Utah's own Justin Braun earned his first hat trick as the Goats gained three huge points on the road against the Red Bulls.
Week 10 in MLS play should sort out the pretenders from contenders in the Western Conference as Dallas plays host to Salt Lake and Chivas takes on the Galaxy in the only derby in MLS. Each team will be looking for three points while trying to gain some distance on the competition.
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