BY ADAM SERRANO
MLS is back.
The first three months of the season have proven that the West is best so far with the Los Angeles Galaxy leading the way with 32 points which is the best in MLS. The defending champion Real Salt Lake were the only team to beat the Galaxy before the break and rank second in the league and second in the Western Conference with 23 points. The pair at the top will still be without key players due to injuries and those still at the World Cup, but will be expected to continue their drive to playoffs.
Those at the bottom, Chivas USA, the Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo need to start the resumed season quickly if they are to rebound and make the playoffs. The World Cup break may be over, but now the fixture congestion — for some teams anyway — will continue as several teams will now have to deal with a schedule that includes the CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and Superliga.
Here's a look at how the Western Conference stands:
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
RECORD: 10-1-2, 1st Place
OUTLOOK: The most dominant team in MLS in the opening will need to rebound off its first loss of the season on Saturday against Toronto. Los Angeles has been impressive due to the contributions of a host of characters from the mercurial Edson Buddle to the play of rising stars Michael Stephens and Tristan Bowen, the Galaxy have found offense from a number of contributors. The real story for the Galaxy was the play of its defense which has only conceded four goals so far this season. The deepest team in the league will be tested down the stretch as the club will be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League and the US Open Cup. If the Galaxy can handle the congestion, they are favorites to return to MLS Cup for a second straight season.
REAL SALT LAKE
OUTLOOK: The defending champions Real Salt Lake resume the season as one of the hottest club's in MLS. Having defeated the previously undefeated Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in the final game before the break, Real Salt Lake returns to play on a streak of seven games unbeaten overall and 16 games unbeaten at home. RSL has enjoyed impressive play from its Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio who leads the team in goals with five. Along with Saborio, Javier Morales has had a big season and pulled the strings for the champions in the offense when he has been healthy. Head Coach Jason Kreis put emphasis on the club having a strong regular season after squeaking into the playoffs last year and RSL has come close to meeting those expectations. In order to repeat as champions, Real Salt Lake will need a strong second half from its captain, Kyle Beckerman who has not yet achieved high form this season.
RECORD: 6-3-2, 3rd Place
OUTLOOK: While Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy have gotten all the headlines, the Colorado Rapids are quietly having an impressive season. The Rapids return to MLS play with a four-game unbeaten streak and look to return to play with a great deal of momentum. The offense has been led by the always reliable Omar Cummings and Connor Casey, the Rapids have entered each match expecting to be dangerous in front of the goal. Colorado has earned the third spot in the rest mostly through stellar defensive play. The Rapids have given up just nine goals so far this season, which is second only to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Should the Rapids continue to protect the net, they will return to the playoffs.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
RECORD: 5-4-2, 4th Place
OUTLOOK: The San Jose Earthquakes have been a revelation in the first half of the season. With inspired play by Bobby Convey and six-goal scorer Chris Wondolowski leading the charge, the Quakes have been dangerous. Perhaps the move that pushes San Jose over the top is the recent addition of midfielder Sam Cronin, who will pick up for the injured Andre Luiz. If Cronin can make a positive impact, the Earthquakes will push for a playoff spot. For the Earthquakes to be dangerous, the club will need a positive second half from last year's leading scorer Ryan Johnson. The much maligned striker has only hit the back of the net once and will need to assist Wondolowski for the Quakes to make the playoffs.
RECORD: 5-7-1, 5th Place
OUTLOOK: The always steady Dynamo are showing the signs of age in the first half as Houston returns to action on a three game losing skid. The biggest issue for the Dynamo has been their defense which has given up the most goals in the Western Conference with 19 conceded. Injuries have plagued Houston with Mike Chabala and Eddie Robinson missing time while star defender Geoff Cameron is also out for the season. For the Dynamo to return to prominence, they will need another injury question mark forward Brian Ching to score goals. The play of Ching has been vital to Houston's success in past seasons and they will need the Hawaiian to return to form if they are going to rebound.
OUTLOOK: Compared to last season, FC Dallas returns to action in good shape. Dallas has had trouble finishing scoring opportunities, but the club has enjoyed the recent run of form of United States youth International Brek Shea. The 20-year-old has scored three goals so far this season and has helped Dallas remain competitive even with Jeff Cunningham's recent run of poor form. FC Dallas will welcome the addition of Colombian forward Milton Rodriguez who will add to a developing offense. Rodriguez is not eligible to play for the club until the fourth game after the break on July 17th. Dallas will need Cunningham and Rodriguez to find the back of the net for the club to join the playoff chase.
RECORD: 4-6-2, 7th Place
OUTLOOK: The season has not gone the way that Sigi Schmid and the rest of the Seattle Sounders intended it to go. Pegged as one of the favorites to reach MLS Cup, the Rave Green have been anemic in front of the net . Help is on the way as Blaise Nkufo will be joining the club soon to help with their scoring woes. The Sounders will need more than the Swiss Striker to make a run at the Western Conference crown as playmakers Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero will have to improve on their combined total of five goals and seven assists.
RECORD: 3-8-1, 8th Place
OUTLOOK: The season has not been kind to Chivas USA so far. The Rojiblancos return from the World Cup break on a five game losing streak and without their star captain Sacha Kljestan who recently moved to Belgian side Anderlecht. Chivas USA will also start the resumed season without co-captain Jonathan Bornstein who is away on World Cup duty, the left back has been rumored with a switch to the Mexican league. It is not all doom and gloom for Martin Vasquez's men as rookie midfielders Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski have been impressive in the first half of the season. For Martin Vasquez's men to get back in the playoff race, they will need to create offense and will need oft-injured striker Maykel Galindo to return to his form of 2008.