For a while this Major League Soccer season, Galaxy striker Edson Buddle was on a pace to not only break Roy Lassiter's all-time MLS record of 27 goals in a season, set in 1996, but to obliterate it.
Buddle scored the Galaxy's first seven goals of 2010 and found the back of the net nine times in the team's first six games. He was in such torrid form, in fact, that Bob Bradley, the U.S. national team coach, had little choice but to take him to South Africa for the World Cup.
And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the flood of goals dried up.
Going into the Galaxy's match Saturday night against the Columbus Crew, Buddle still led the league with 13 goals, but he had scored only four times since May and had been held scoreless for 350 consecutive minutes.
"At this point in the season, you have teams scrapping for points and the games are going to be low-scoring," Buddle said. "It's more physical, and any opportunity you get you're going to have to put it away. I wouldn't say I'm playing different."
According to Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, opposing defenses are the reason.
"It's the nervous time in the league," Arena said. "The games mean a lot more, especially for teams that are scrambling for playoff spots, and they're going to drop numbers back" on defense.
"They're getting [defenders] around him, and that requires that Edson play better. We haven't been good enough in the final third of the field to open up some more [scoring] opportunities for Edson. That has to improve."
Was the World Cup to blame for Buddle's about-face? Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan thinks it had an impact.
"You don't realize how much a World Cup takes out of you," Donovan said. "You even see players coming back in their seasons in Europe who have had a month off and they're struggling.
"Mentally and emotionally, it's very difficult to go through that, especially the way our World Cup went, and then to come back and have that same passion and fire. That's challenging.
"I talked to Edson about this, and it's something I've looked at myself. If you want to be a top player and a top professional, it's something you have to find a way to overcome. It's not easy."
Buddle might find some inspiration in the fact that there are five players on his heels in the race for the league scoring title.
Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel of the New York Red Bulls is just one behind with 12 goals, while Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux scored his 11th on Saturday and Seattle's Fredy Montero has 10. Then come Justin Braun of Chivas USA, Conor Casey of Colorado and Dwayne De Rosario of Toronto, each with nine.
Buddle's pedigree as a goal-scorer is unquestioned. His 86 goals in 10 seasons rank him eighth on the all-time list in MLS, just two goals fewer than Roy Lassiter's 88, but well shy of Jaime Moreno's league mark of 132. Twenty-five of Buddle's goals have been game-winners.
It is a fact of life in soccer, however, that forwards go through lean spells. The question for Buddle is: when will he snap out of this one? Coming into Saturday's match, the Galaxy was 8-0-1 in games in which Buddle scored and 2-4-3 in games when he was shut out.
His fast start to the season, Buddle said, caused unrealistic expectations.
"They expect me to score all the time," he said. "I think I learned last year that the playoffs is where it's most important. Hopefully I can do well then.
"If I scored every game, I would have nothing to look forward to, so now it gives me a little bit of a challenge."