A truly thrilling battle for the Supporter’s Shield is developing in the Major League Soccer. After two thirds of the 36 rounds in the regular season of the North American professional football league, with 19 clubs from the USA and Canada, the San Jose Earthquakes (44 points from 23 matches) and Real Salt Lake (42 from 23) are the leading teams. The two clubs from the Western Conference are ahead of the Eastern Conference top duo New York Red Bulls (38 from 22) and Houston Dynamo (37 from 22). The Supporter’s Shield is awarded to the top team after the regular season, before the start of the play offs. Winning the coveted trophy also entails participation in the CONCACAF Champions League (Football Association of North and Central America and the Caribbean).
Champions Los Angeles Galaxy, who won the Supporter’s Shield last year, are currently ranked eighth with 33 points from 23 matches. The title holders have not yet hit their stride. Ten wins, ten defeats, three draws – that’s not the mark of champions. But last year’s finalists FC Dallas have fared even worse, for the Texans are ranked 17th and will probably miss the play offs. And the 2010 MLS champions Colorado Rapids, ranked 16th, also face major problems this year.
The MLS celebrated a great victory at the end of July, when the UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea FC presented themselves in the USA. Directed by the former English international David Beckham, the MLS selection defeated the top club from London in a friendly match 3-2 (1-1), cheered on by 19,236 spectators at PPL Arena in Chester, the home ground of Philadelphia Union.
Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) and Chris Pontius (D.C. United) scored the goals for the MLS All Stars, who achieved their first victory against an internationally renowned team since 2008. Beckham, who plays with Los Angeles Galaxy had flown from England to the USA for this match. After the game the 37-year-old then returned to London to take part in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Summer Games. His former team-mates in the English national team, Frank Lampard and John Terry, scored the goals for Chelsea. On the last July weekend Chelsea also lost an exhibition game to AC Milan 1-0.
San Jose, although the leaders at the end of July, must look back on several less than successful weeks. They won only their two home matches against Dallas (2-1) and second-placed Real Salt Lake, that however with an impressive 5-0 victory at Buck Shaw Stadium. San Jose Earthquakes call that arena in Santa Clara in California their home stadium. At the beginning of July they had managed only a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire. San Jose failed to win any of their three away matches, losing 2-1 at the Vancouver Whitecaps, followed by a goalless draw at FC Dallas, and a 2-1 defeat at the Portland Timbers. The last result was particularly surprising as Portland are in the bottom 19th place in the League, with just five wins and four draws in 21 matches. The Canadian champions FC Toronto suffered the same poor results.
However, the MLS remains well balanced among the clubs. Further proof is that, on July 28, the New York Red Bulls lost 3-1 at Montreal Impact, the team that joined the MLS only at the start of the season. The Canadians are currently holding 12th position (27 points from 24 matches). Prior to their defeat in Montreal, the Red Bulls had defeated Philadelphia Union 2-0 and Chicago Fire 1-0, but managed only a 2-2 draw with the Seattle Sounders at home. New York and Seattle are among the teams who are expecting to strengthen their squads.
Christian Tiffert, a much experienced German professional, has transferred from 1. FC Kaiserslautern to Seattle on the American west coast. Tim Cahill, the Australian who played in the English Premier League for many years, has moved from Everton FC to New York where he will play with stars Thierry Henry (France) and Rafa Marquez (Mexico). It is possible that Brazil international Kaka will soon announce his move from Real Madrid to the North American League. German international Michael Ballack, whose contract with Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen has expired, has not yet found a new club although he has called the MLS an attractive goal.