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Awards and flops ...the MLS story so far this season

With about a quarter of the season gone, it's time to look at who's doing well ... who's struggling and the surprises.

David Villa is a true leader ... the spark that drives NYCFC
David Villa is a true leader ... the spark that drives NYCFC
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

We're in for another exciting season in MLS. With parity comes a lot of uncertainty. The one constant element in the league is entertaining games (for the most part ...).

Here are collective observations ... how teams are doing.

  1. the Western Conference is a class above the East ... even the struggling SKC and Houston contingent would offer stiff resistance to the teams leading the eastern standings.

  2. The BEST team in MLS so far: the LA Galaxy ... while their defense might still be somewhat suspect (although Van Damme is an upgrade on Gonzalez) ... their striking power sows fear in the hearts and minds of opponents when all the elements are clicking (as they are now ...). FC Dallas comes in second.

  3. Most improved team: Colorado Rapids ... Getting suspended might have been the best thing to ever happen to Jermaine Jones. His focus since his arrival on the pitch for the Rapids has been exceptional. A much better balanced team than in the past. Many veterans to help the progression of young, skillful players. The Philadelphia Union rank second in this category. Toronto FC with a surprising defensive coherence is third.

  4. Most disappointing team: Houson and Columbus ... Cubo Torres hasn't shown his class yet and in Ohio ... dissension on the field and in the dressing room seems to be condemning last year's Eastern Conference champions to a spot below the red line.

  5. Most inconsistent team: FCD ...some nights, they look the class of the league .. on others, their youth and tactical "naiveté" shows.
Now, let's look at players who have grabbed our attention (for good ... or not so good reasons):
  • MVP: David Villa ...simply put NYCFC would get blasted out of most games without his skills, leadership and desire to win ... Sebastian Giovinco comes in a close second.

  • Best player: Sebastian Giovinco ... does everything ... the best DP signing in MLS history along with Robbie Keane.

  • Best rookie: Keegan Rosenberry ...has made the transition from the college game to MLS look easy. No small achievement for a defender. Jordan Morris and Tsubasa Endoh complete the top three.

  • Best newcomer: a few good choices here ... Nuno Cuelho at SKC and Van Damme in LA are top of mind. Not a coincidence since they are both experienced defenders with European pedigrees.

  • Best defender: not even close: Laurent Ciman ... no other centre back in the league reads the play like he does. Has scaled down his enthusiasm and avoided referees' wrath. Waston in Vancouver is also having a great year.

  • Most overrated player: Jozy Altidore ... certainly not worth the big DP contract he's getting paid for. You want another big, hold-the-ball type centre forward? look no further than Will Bruin ... a much cheaper option.

  • Best defensive midfield: a few strong choices around MLS: Chara in Portland, Alonso in Seattle ... but the best might be Higuita in Orlando ... no wonder he's getting interest from Europe.

  • Biggest flop: without even setting foot on the pitch ... Frank Lampard ... enough said.

  • Most underrated player: Ignacio Piatti ... yes, we love him in Montreal but Nacho doesn't get the recognition he deserves as one of the league's elite players. Zardes in LA and McNamara in NYCFC complete this group.

  • Most surprising player: Robbie Keane ... getting on with years ... started the season hurt ... comes back like nothing happened ... a true professional ... one of the best DP signings ever in MLS.
A bonus:

Best set piece goal: New York Red Bulls ... almost a ballet ... well executed

Best free kick:  a "gift from the soccer gods" ... as the ESPN commentator puts it ... Diego Valeri at it again.

Best goal from outside the box: apologies to Maxim Tissot and his wonder strike along the ground ... but this chip from Luciano Acosta was simply sublime.