2008 MLS Mid-Season Report Card
By Jeff Kassouf
With the MLS All-Star Game here again for the thirteenth time, the unofficial halfway point of the season has been reached. It seems like just yesterday that Houston was lifting the title again on a brisk November day in DC, but time has continued to tick away to another showdown between an internationally recognized club and the best in Major League Soccer.
Arguably, West Ham is not as big of a draw as teams like Chelsea and Celtic have been in years past, but the play in Major League Soccer has continued to elevate throughout the season. Parity continues to rule the Western Conference, while the East is beginning to separate the good from the bad. Here is how things have looked for the first half of the season:
New England Revolution (1st place in east, 33 points): The Revs are looking strong this year as they always do. While they continue to play well in the midfield and with their rock-solid anchor Matt Reis, nobody in New England is going to care what happens during the regular season at this point. After four losses in the last five MLS Cups, it is championship or bust for this team. Grade: A-
Columbus Crew (2nd place in east, 28 points): Columbus has really come into their own this season, with veterans Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Alejandro Moreno leading the charge and young guns such as Chad Marshall finally showing their true potential. The feisty fans are Crew Stadium have also helped put some life into this team that, despite being in second place, is really just flying under the radar. Grade: A-
Chicago Fire (3rd place in east, 25 points): Chicago is continuing to do well under the masterful mind of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who is in his first full season with the team. John Thorrington has turned into something very special for the Fire, who must continue to finish their chances to stay in the title hunt. Grade: B
DC United (4th place in east, 22 points): For a team filled with such talent, there is no excuse for starting the season off the way that the black and red did. Slowly, they have turned things around, but with a front line that includes Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno and rising star Clyde Simms, the boys from RFK simply have to do better. Grade: B-
Toronto FC (5th place in east, 22 points): The boys from north of the boarder have done well to stay in the hunt of things so far this season, and are playing much more inspiring soccer this year under Coach John Carver. For just their second season of existence, Toronto FC is still in a building stage, and are doing well to not get completely embarrassed while doing so (a la RSL and Chivas USA in their first two seasons in the league). With players like Maurice Edu and Jim Brennan, they should be holding their own. Grade: B
Kansas City Wizards (6th place in east, 21 points): While the Wizards have endured some tough stretches already throughout the first half of this season, as of today they still only sit a point out of a playoff spot; not a bad position to be in when you are struggling. If Josh Wolff can help boost the attack in Kansas City, this team could get hot, but will lose captain Jimmy Conrad (and possibly Wolff) to international duty in the fall. For now though, they have some work to do. Grade: C+
New York Red Bulls (7th place in east, 21 points): The Meadowlands must have something in the air (or on the nasty turf), because this team has been plagued with injuries all season. Juan Pablo Angel is finally healthy again, but Claudio Renya never even came back from his series of injuries and decided to retire. New signings will prove to be critical to the success of this team, and Jorge Rojas already showed some of the creativity that he can bring in his first game against Los Angeles. Grade: C+
Real Salt Lake (1st place in west, 24 points): Who would have thought the day would come when Real Salt Lake was sitting atop the conference? The way the team has struggled over their inaugural seasons, surely very few beyond their fans in Utah would have predicted this. One could only think that moving into their brand new soccer specific stadium for the tail end of the season could only help, but it may actually take away some of the home field advantage that RSL enjoys thanks to the terrible Astroturf at Rice-Eccles Stadium. For now though, they are looking good. Grade: B+
Los Angeles Galaxy (2nd place in west, 23 points): For the Galaxy, their season really has been a tale of two stories. Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle are first and second in league scoring respectively, benefiting from Beckham and the high-powered offense in LA. Defensively though, the Galaxy still cannot get their act together, and the inexperienced Steve Cronin is not getting much defensive cover in front of him. Offensively, the Galaxy would get an A+ for some of the most entertaining soccer MLS has seen, but their defensive struggles must be mended if they expect to be playing for the title in their home stadium in November. Grade: B-
Chivas USA (3rd place in west, 22 points): The Galaxy’s tenant partners and primary rivals sit only a point behind second place, with the potential to make some noise in the second half of the season. Sacha Kljestan and Ante Razov must continue to stay hot, as both are critical elements to this team. So far, they are just caught up in the parity that Western Conference teams cannot seem to escape. Grade: B
Colorado Rapids (4th place in west, 21 points): The Rapids seem to be another team out west plagued by inconsistency. Their season opening beat-down of the Galaxy had many looking their way, but their play has not lived up to expectations, proving that the game was more of a case of the Galaxy just looking really bad. If things do not shape up for the boys from the Rocky Mountain, it could (and quite possibly should) mean Fernando Clavijo losing his job. Grade: B-
Houston Dynamo (5th place in west, 20 points): The defending champs began the season in a bit of a slump, but have since started finding the back of the net thanks to the usual suspects of Brian Ching and Dwayne De Rosario, and still-young-gun Stuart Holden. With veterans such as Wade Barrett and Pat Onstad anchoring things in the back, this team is always a title contender. Only time can tell if the can make it three in a row after their move from San Jose. Grade: B-
FC Dallas (6th place in west, 19 points): If it were not for lowly expansion side San Jose, the Hoops would be sitting in dead last in the west right now. Kenny Cooper has been on fire and getting attention from Bob Bradley for a chance to represent his country, but his teammates over at Pizza Hut Park must step up if this team is to claw their way out of the cellar or the west. Grade: C
San Jose Earthquakes (7th place in west, 14 points): The Earthquakes are showing that the preseason really does not mean anything. After winning the Carolina Challenge Cup rather handily, the ‘Quakes are showing that they are an expansion team starting from scratch. Joe Cannon and Nick Garcia are holding things down in the back, but San Jose has absolutely nothing to show for itself up top. Maybe the experience of Darren Huckerby can bring some help to this struggling team. For now though, it is simply a building process for the coming years, as Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake can attest to. Grade: C-
The field really is wide open for anyone to take home the title in what could shape up to be the most entertaining MLS season ever. Anyone could take home the title, but I will make the first prediction here first. The big-guns will finally come through and live up to expectations to produce a marquee match-up of Blanco and the Fire against Beckham and the Galaxy (who have twice failed to make it to the title game in their home stadium). This free-flowing entertaining game will break the mold of MLS Cups being nervous defensive struggles and end with LA taking the title in a 4-2 decision. With this parity, though, your guess is as good as mine.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: email@example.com
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