A few surprises in MLS, 1/3 of way in

With about a third of the Major League Soccer season completed, some interesting story lines are forming in the 2013 Major League Soccer season Here are a few to look forward to.

Pleasant surprises: The New York Red Bulls lead a tightly packed group of Eastern Conference contenders, one point clear of Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, and Montreal Impact. Currently holding fifth place and the last playoff spot (if the season were concluded) are Philadelphia Union.

The Red Bulls are meshing well, with longtime French star Thierry Henry leading the squad in collecting five goals, while Australian import Tim Cahill stands next at three goals. On the other hand it’s no surprise, though, that Houston and SKC are near the top of the conference table yet again; both squads are combining strong defense with a quality offensive attack.

But it’s in the West, however, where the biggest surprise lies – FC Dallas. FCD, a long underperforming squad season after season, are the loop’s current hot side, leading the chase for the Supporters’ Shield with 24 points through 11 games. Another surprising side are right behind them with 18 points, Portland Timbers, who finished next to last last year.

The West also has a (no pun intended) logjam in the standings, as just four points separates the second-place Timbers from two-time defending MLS Cup holders Los Angeles Galaxy, and the San Jose Earthquakes, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners; and seven points between Portland and CD Chivas USA in last place.

Unpleasant surprise: Woebegone D.C. United. The once-proud Red and Black, so close but yet so far from the MLS Cup final last season as Eastern Conference finalists with Houston, are mired in the East’s last place slot, with four points from just one win and one draw this season, along with a league-worst goal differential of -14.

Toronto FC, unsurprisingly near the bottom of the East table, were unable to brighten their 2013 season, failing to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League in dropping the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal to Montreal. The Impact will take on Vancouver Whitecaps FC in just a few days to determines who claims Canada’s slot in the 2013-14 edition of the confederation-wide club tournament.

Individual leaders so far: Unlike last season when Chris Wondolowski got off to a blazing start and eventually claimed the league’s Golden Boot with a single season record tying 27 goals, a number of players are bunched up at the top of the goal-scoring list this year. While the Earthquakes’ “Wondo” is tied with New York’s Henry for fifth with five goals scored so far, the top spot is held by Philadelphia Union’s Jack McInerney with seven goals.

Tied for second at six goals scored are a trio of players, including Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee; and a pair of forwards, Montreal’s Italian import Marco di Vaio, and Kansas City’s Argentine newcomer Claudio Bieler. Topping the assist table are Portland’s first Designated Player, Diego Valeri; KC’s Graham Zusi, and Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata, each with four.

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