CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 24: The Los Angeles Galaxy starting XI pose for a group photo prior to the MLS match against FC Dallas on October 24, 2010 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated FC Dallas 2-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

So that's it then - the 2011 MLS regular season has come to a close.  It's been quite a ride, starting way back in the frosty days of March, included a first-ever break for a World Cup, an infusion of high-dollar talent in the summer, the initially dominant Galaxy come back to the pack before hanging on for a point title, and a shock Golden Boot winner in Chris Wondolowski. Other things happened, too, but they're too numerous to name. 2010 was a whirlwind year.

What did we learn through the 2010 MLS season?

RSL was no fluke

Real Salt Lake's 2009 run to the title was about as surprising as a championship in a league filled with parity could possibly be.  They sneaked into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record and found the classic playoffs hot streak at just the right time; they essentially won a title on the way up, rather than at the top of their arc, and 2010 is the proof.  Second on points, with an unblemished home record and a CCL group win under their belt, RSL managed to build on their title.  The uncertainties of the playoff system might keep them from repeating, but that shouldn't take away from the season they had.  2010 taught us RSL is just plain good, that you don't need big-money signings to contend for the Supporters Shield, and that Jason Kreis is a good coach and a snappy dresser.

LA's dominance was fleeting (aka all teams hit the wall)

Sure, they won the Supporters Shield, but it was much more difficult than it needed to be.  LA's first half dominance had some talking about an undefeated season; unfortunately for the Galaxy, attrition and parity punish everyone eventually.  Arena worked his magic, and the Galaxy are still one of the league's best, but they didn't turn out to be the super team that it appeared they might be when the season began. 2010 re-taught us that even when a team looks like they'll coast to a points title, MLS won't cooperate.

No sophomore slump for Seattle

After making the playoffs in their expansion year, hopes were high for the Sounders.  Some half-wits had them as contenders for the first MLS triple: Supporters Shield, US Open Cup, and MLS Cup.  Still with a chance at a double, but perhaps falling short of some overly lofty expectation, the Sounders nonetheless avoided a sophomore slump.  Two years, two playoff births.  Oh, and they broke their own attendance record.  2010 taught us that Seattle has a good thing going and lots of people watching it go.

Signing DP(s) not a magic bullet

New York signed Henry and Marquez, and while it would be hard to argue it didn't make them better, New York's turnaround was hardly their doing.  Chicago brought in Nery Castillo and traded for Freddie Ljungberg; one contributed nothing, the other couldn't carry the team to a playoff spot.  Toronto's DP's generally failed to make a difference (and I'm being kind).  DC United signed one, but I can barely remember his name.  Some DPs helped, but many did not.  As with anything in MLS, the premium isn't on spending to spend, it's on spending intelligently.  2010 taught us that more DP slots means more DP misses, and signing a bust to DP dollars isn't the brightest thing to do.

Foreign coaches can win (in New York)

Conventional wisdom and history weren't in Hans Backe's favor when he signed up to coach the new look Red Bulls; new-to-the-league foreign coaches have trouble grasping the unique quirks MLS, which inevitably ends in disaster.  Backe bucked that trend, and whether it's down to his own adaptability, the help of second-in-charge Richie Williams, or something else, the Swede's success in New York is remarkable.  The question is, has the league changed, or is Backe one of a kind?  Did 2010 teach us that foreign coaches can succeed, or just that Hans Backe was the right man for New York?

The West is Best

I didn't get much right in my pre-season predictions, but I did call this.  The Western Conference was dominant, ending the regular season with six of eight playoff teams and the league's two best teams on points. Throw in an FC Dallas team with their long unbeaten streak, and the West was home to the league's best teams for most of the second half of the season.  2010 taught us that the East was terrible.

There are lessons in abundance, and these are just a few.  Let me know what I missed or what you learned.

As for the playoffs, here are you finalized match-ups with dates, times, and TV info:

  • Oct 28 9pm ET
  • Columbus at Colorado, 1st leg
  • Dick's Sporting Goods Park
  • ESPN2
  • Oct 30 5pm ET
  • Real Salt Lake at Dallas, 1st leg
  • Pizza Hut Park
  • FSC
  • Oct 30 10pm ET
  • New York at San Jose, 1st leg
  • Buck Shaw Stadium
  • TeleFutura/Regional TV
  • Oct 31 8pm ET
  • LA Galaxy at Seattle, 1st leg
  • Qwest Field
  • EPSN2
  • Nov 4 8pm ET
  • San Jose at New York, 2nd leg
  • Red Bull Arena
  • ESPN2
  • Nov 6 4pm ET
  • Colorado at Columbus, 2nd leg
  • Columbus Crew Stadium
  • TeleFutura/Regional TV
  • Nov 6 10pm ET
  • Dallas at Real Salt Lake, 2nd leg
  • Rio Tinto Stadium
  • FSC
  • Nov 7 9pm ET
  • Seattle at LA Galaxy, 2nd leg
  • The Home Depot Center
  • ESPN2
  • Nov 11-14
  • Eastern Conf. Finals
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • Nov 11-14
  • Western Conf. Finals
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • Nov 21 8:30pm ET
  • MLS Cup
  • BMO Field, Toronto, ON
  • ESPN & TeleFutua
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