|San Jose's Chris Wondolowski could match the single-season scoring record this year with 10 more goals. (AFP)
1) WONDO APPROACHING UNTOUCHABLE RECORD
The San Jose Earthquake’s Chris Wondolowski has scored 51 goals in 76 starts since 2010. The U.S. international’s 17 goals before this year’s MLS all-star break is one more than he scored through all of last season. On his way to securing a third straight MLS scoring title, Wondolowski is quietly approaching Roy Lassiter’s single-season goal-scoring mark from 1996. The U.S. soccer legend bagged 27 goals for the now defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny in the league’s inaugural season, 10 more than Wondolowski has with 14 games remaining for the ’Quakes. Still, there’s absolutely no talk of the league’s top scorer moving abroad despite being on what’s likely the best run of form the league has ever seen. To go along with Wondolowski’s record-seeking end to 2012, for the first time in a decade, the league could see two players break the 20-goal barrier. The L.A Galaxy’s Carlos Ruiz (24 goals) and the New England Revolution’s Taylor Twellman (23 goals) did it in 2002 while the New York Red Bulls Kenny Cooper (13 goals) could join Wondolowski in the 20-goal club by the end of the current campaign.
2) TEAMS LOOKING FOR BIG RETURNS ON DPs
MLS clubs currently have 28 Designated Players scattered across their rosters, six of which joined their respective clubs this summer. As a result, fans around the league will want to see if the league’s newest big names will produce what their big-money contracts beg of them. Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marin Rennie has taken heat for shipping fan-favourite Designated Player Eric Hassli to Toronto FC as he looks for a crucial return on a pair of freshly minted Scottish Designated Players — Barry Robson and Kenny Miller — to support the Caps’ final playoff push. In Quebec, Impact fans have had a taste of what Italian Designated Player Marco Di Vaio has to offer, but they’ll expect much more from the Italian, who has yet to score in seven appearances. As for the rest, Honduran international Jerry Bengston continues to impress in New England while Toronto supporters will get a look at fellow Honduran Oscar Boniek Garcia when the Houston Dynamo visits BMO Field on Saturday. Add to that former Everton standout Tim Cahill reportedly set to join New York and there’s plenty to look forward to in terms of player acquisitions during the second half of the season.
3) LARSON’S BOLD PLAYOFF PREDICTION
Following significant upgrades to their back four, I predicted the Vancouver Whitecaps would not only capture this year’s Canadian Championship, but that they’d make the 2012 playoffs after a dismal first season. Despite missing the mark on the first forecast, the second couldn’t have been better. The ’Caps currently sit 11 points up on sixth-place Chivas USA, the club on the edge of the playoffs in the Western Conference. Backed up by a near flawless record at BC Place, Vancouver’s improved road form (the Whitecaps didn’t win a game on the road in 2011) has seen it up into third place in the West at the midway point. With three months remaining, keep a watchful eye on the blue and white, which looks most likely to become the first Canadian MLS club to qualify for the MLS post-season.
4) MLS CLUBS IN THE CCL
From Real Salt Lake’s run to the CONCACAF Champions League final to multiple MLS clubs knocking off Mexican opposition in 2012, under CONCACAF’s new format, look for at least one of the five MLS sides (L.A., Houston, Toronto, Salt Lake and Seattle) to make a deep run in this year’s Champions League. None of the aforementioned five teams will meet before the quarterfinal stage and TFC is the only MLS side forced to deal with Mexican opposition in the three-team group phase. While attendance booms and state-of-the-art MLS venues are nice and well, the league’s next milestone is emerging from a Champions League final and progressing to the FIFA Club World Cup after four years of exclusion.
5) UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
As many as five MLS clubs, maybe more, could be on the hunt for new head coaches by the end of 2012. The Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers are already under interim guidance while poor performances from FC Dallas and Colorado could have Shellas Hyndman and Oscar Pareja looking for work by Halloween. In his first year and at the helm of a sometimes hapless expansion side, the Montreal Impact’s Jesse Marsch looks safe at the moment. But with a hands-on owner in Joey Saputo constantly looking over the first-year manager’s shoulder, things could change. With former TFC head coach Aron Winter already replaced, 2013 could feature anywhere from three to six new managers across the 19-team league.