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The first seven weeks of the 2011 MLS season have seen some real roller-coaster rides for some teams, but for the cream of the crop, the season has been a steady rise to the top of the standings.
For the clubs enjoying the best early goings, their successes can be linked to the strong performances of the league's best players in the early going. Whether it is Teemu Tainio running the midfield in New York, Brad Davis spear-heading the Houston attack or Faryd Mondragon leading the stingy Philadelphia back-line, there is a strong collection of talent leading the charge in the season's opening weeks.
So who has been the very best in MLS through the season's first six week's? Here are SBI's selections for the first MLS Team of the Month:
Tally Hall, Omar Gonzalez, Jan Gunnar Solli, Nat Borchers, Tim Ream, Rafa Marquez, Davide Chiumiento, David Ferreira, Osvaldo Alonso, Shalrie Joseph, Javier Morales, David Beckham, David Ferreira, Kalif Alhassan, Mauro Rosales, Will Bruin, Luke Rodgers, Thierry Henry, Fredy Montero
Yes, it's a Team of the Month, and yes we included March together with April since March was a short month on the MLS calendar.
Shalrie Joseph was a lock for the first team before slipping off in the past few weeks. To say it was a toss-up between he, Jewsbury and Diego Chaves is an understatement. Really could have gone either way. Omar Gonzalez and Jan Gunnar Solli were also very good candidates for the first team defense.
The goalkeeper pick wasn't an easy one either. Tally Hall has had some truly outstanding games, but Mondragon has been instrumental in the organization and effectiveness of one of the stingiest defenses in MLS.
No, there are no fullbacks on the first team. If we were doing a natural Best XI, then Jan Gunnar Solli (right back) and Alain Rochat (left back) would have replaced Bobby Boswell and Heath Pearce. No, there really aren't many quality left back options in MLS. No, that's not surprising.
If you're curious about the rest of our All-Natural Best XI picks, David Beckham would get the not on the right wing over Dane Richards (replacing Steve Zakuani on the Best XI), while Davide Chiumiento would get the nod at attacking midfielder (replacing Jack Jewsbury in the Best XI).
So why no Real Salt Lake players? RSL played just five matches in the season's first seven weeks, and of RSL's top players, none played more than four matches (and no, we DO NOT count CONCACAF Champions League performance or U.S. Open Cup performances in the Best XI consideration, just MLS play).
We could have named a few more Honorable Mention picks, but stopped at 19 to make it an even 30 players. We'll go with fewer going forward, but with six weeks of games to account for, we opened things up a bit.
UPDATE- I've replaced Jeff Parke with Rafa Marquez on the Honorable Mention list. Parke did start strong, but with him having sat the past two matches, I'll give Marquez the edge. His penalty kick was awful, and set pieces have been erratic, but as far as defending goes Marquez has been solid all season.
What do you think of this month's selections? Who didn't make our team that would have made yours? Anybody you're happy to see mentioned, either on first team or honorable mention?
Share your thoughts below.