What Is Up Is Down, What Is Bad Is Good In MLS These Days

March 10, 2012; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski (8) shakes a finger at the referee against the New England Revolution during the second half at Buck Shaw Stadium. The San Jose Earthquakes defeated the New England Revolution 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The Western Conference, especially, is basically being turned on its head in these early weeks.

MLS is a cruel mistress.

Just when you think you're possibly starting to figure her out -- declaring that the LA Galaxy are possibly poised for a historic season and proclaiming the Western Conference to be vastly superior to the East -- something like this past week jumps out and smacks you back to reality.

Think it's just a one-week anomaly? Take a look at the Western Conference standings. You could literally turn them upside down and they wouldn't look any weirder (I'm pretty sure I stole that line, so I apologize in advance).

OK, Real Salt Lake is about where we expected them, sitting atop the West with 9 points from four matches. But their one loss? It was to Chivas USA, at Rio Tinto, no less.

The San Jose Earthquakes are currently tied for the conference lead after beating the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The Earthquakes needed nine matches to get to nine points a year ago. The other Western team with nine points is the Colorado Rapids, a team that was coming off a 4-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls.

The only undefeated team in the West is the Vancouver Whitecaps, who currently sit on eight points through four matches. A year ago, it took them 13 matches to reach eight points and their four road points are just one fewer than they claimed all of last year.

On the other end of the standings you have Chivas USA (OK, that's probably predictable) at three points. They are tied with the Galaxy, who also have a -2 goal-difference. One point ahead of them is FC Dallas, whose -3 goal-difference is actually the worst in the conference.

At least with the Galaxy there's a relatively simple explanation: Omar Gonzalez was much more important to this team's defense than a lot of people were willing to believe. The Galaxy defense has been an absolute mess this year, as they've now given up 11 goals in five competitive matches.

It's not like they've been facing offensive juggernauts, either. Toronto FC scored four goals against the Galaxy during their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. TFC has so far scored just one goal in three MLS games. The Revolution just scored three goals against the Galaxy. They came into the game having scored just once in their previous three matches.

As a point of reference, the Galaxy's worst performance over any five-game stretch a year ago was six goals against. The Galaxy allowed 11 goals in 24 all-competition games at Home Depot Center in 2011. This year, they've already given up nine in four matches.

The problems in Dallas are maybe a little less apparent, and perhaps less concerning. While the Galaxy have basically been playing with as close to a full-strength side as they'll have for a few more months, at least, Dallas has been forced to do a little more juggling. Schellas Hyndman has yet to settle on a centerback pairing, as George John once again found himself on the bench after joining the team late because of his trial with West Ham.

The eight goals FC Dallas have allowed, though, are some cause for concern. Even after their late-season collapse a year ago, they still ranked fifth in the league in goals allowed.

The point here is that whether or not you thought some of these teams may have been under- or over-rated, hardly anyone foresaw the Western Conference unfolding the way it has. But that's the joy -- and the frustration -- of MLS, I suppose. Just when you thought you figured it out, the assumptions all get thrown out.

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