Major League Soccer hit the first quarter mark of the 2014 season, with the Sounders boasting the league's best record.Maybe it's because the looming World Cup is providing an understandable distraction, or maybe the influx of top American players made it easy to lose sight of the weeks flying by, but the 2014 MLS season has already hit the quarter mark and there is plenty to digest from an already-eventful season.
Clint Dempsey has buried concerns about his European success translating to MLS dominance as he has found a rich vein of form and has helped Seattle to an outstanding start to the season. The Sounders boast the league's best record at the quarter pole, and have done so despite an offseason roster overhaul that saw a half-dozen new veteran players brought on board.
Seattle isn't the only team that has enjoyed early success after an offseason shakeup. The Columbus Crew and FC Dallas are other examples of teams that added new coaches and/or players and are seeing positive early returns. Though the Crew and Dallas lost this past weekend, they have each exceeded expectations through the season's first quarter.
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From an individual standpoint, we have seen some very impressive newcomers arrive in MLS and make immediate impacts, while the league's rookie class is still leaving something to be desired as few teams have incorporated those young players into their early-season plans.
Though there is still plenty of soccer left to play in the 2014 season, it is worth looking at the teams, players and coaches that have impressed, disappointed and made statements through the first quarter of the current MLS campaign.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders. The U.S. national team captain has eight goals and three assists and looks to have benefited greatly from his loan stint at Fulham this past winter. He should head to the World Cup in good form, but the real question is whether he can keep up his current torrid pace when he returns from Brazil. Runner-up: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Pedro Morales, Vancouver Whitecaps. The Chilean playmaker has been a real revelation for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and is one of the keys to the team's solid start to 2014. He has shown that he can score goals as well as set them up. Runner-up: Gaston Fernandez, Portland Timbers.
DEFENDER OF THE YEAR
Chad Marshall, Seattle Sounders. The veteran has enjoyed a career renaissance since joining the Sounders from the Crew. An imposing presence in the middle who covers well for the rest of the defense, Marshall is also a threat on set pieces. Runner-up: Matt Hedges, FC Dallas.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Harrison Shipp, Chicago Fire. The Rookie of the Year race already looks like a runaway, with Shipp looking extremely impressive while the rest of the rookie class struggles for playing time. Runner-up: Thomas McNamara, Chivas USA.
GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR
Luis Robles, New York Red Bulls. With apologies to Nick Rimando, who has had some other-worldly performances in 2014, no goalkeeper has been as consistent and as important to his team's early success as Robles has been for the New York Red Bulls. Runner-up: Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew. Not an easy category to select, and while it might seem easy to select Sigi Schmid, what Berhalter has been able to do in transforming the way the Crew play has been one of the more impressive coaching accomplishments of the young season. Runner-up: Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago Fire. A journeyman forward with five seasons of experience prior to 2014, Amarikwa with four goals has already eclipsed his career high for goals in a season and has been one of the few bright spots to a rough start to the season for the Fire. Runner-up: Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew.
COACH MOST IN DANGER OF BEING FIRED
John Hackworth, Philadelphia Union. Chicago's Frank Yallop may still be looking for his team's first win, but it is Hackworth facing the most heat as we hit the quarter pole in 2014. An eight-match winless streak after an offseason that saw the team spend quite a bit to revamp the roster has to have Union owners thinking about a change. Runner-up: Frank Klopas, Montreal Impact.
MLS BEST XI
Luis Robles; Matt Hedges, Chad Marshall, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Mauro Diaz, Kyle Beckerman, Federico Higuain; Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Alvaro Saborio
THE MLS WRAP WEEK NINE AWARDS
Player of the Week: Joao Plata. The speedy Real Salt Lake forward led his team's stirring comeback from two goals down on the way to a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Fire.
Team of the Week: New England Revolution. The Revs won their first match in Toronto in club history, knocking off a full-strength Toronto FC side.
Rookie of the Week: Patrick Mullins. The New England Revolution first-round pick scored a beautiful equalizer, then drew the match-winning penalty to help the Revs knock off TFC.