McCarthy's Musings: D.C. United, San Jose receive top marks at midseason

The Musings doles out its progress report on the first half of the MLS campaign as clubs start to gear up for the stretch run.

In the lengthy MLS campaign, the dog days of summer merely represent the halfway point in a long march toward MLS Cup.

Some sides have distinguished themselves by this juncture with their performances. Other clubs have underperformed and underwhelmed for a variety of reasons.

For better or worse, the toil of the first half of the season only places teams in starting positions for the stretch. Nothing – not even the fate of apparent also-rans at this moment – is well and truly settled by this stage of the season.

Even with the inevitable upheaval still to come with the CONCACAF Champions League around the corner and the usual shifting up and down the table, the 19 MLS sides deserve a modest evaluation.

The best part? Unlike those marks doled out at the end of the semester, these particular marks can change as the postseason approaches.

(Note: Every grading system possesses its own certain flaws. This particular metric employs a fairly generous curve with a median grade of B+. The final grade represents a mixture of two factors: expectations prior to the season and performances during the campaign given the quality in the squad.)

Eastern Conference

D.C. United: Forget about all of those worries about making the playoffs for the first time in this decade. Ben Olsen's vibrant squad has exceeded those expectations with an unexpected run to the top of the conference. The next hurdle: making sure this team has the defensive base to mount a MLS Cup run. A

Sporting Kansas City: Every part of this club continues to grow by leaps and bounds. The playing staff has suffered through some indifferent form over the past couple of months as the high-tempo playing style exacted its toll, but, all in all, that bright start revealed the potential of a side with designs on securing the double. A-

New York: Few, if any, teams have looked as potent when everything is in gear. Few, if any, sides have chopped and changed as frequently without suffering too many ill effects. Few, if any, teams look as primed for the postseason with Sébastien Le Toux now in the fold. A-

Chicago: The performances exceed the sum of the parts in Bridgeview these days. Frank Klopas wouldn't mind another striker, but the players he has at his disposal – including the mix-and-match duos in central defense – have served him well enough up until this point. A-

Columbus: Most of the teams in the league possess more natural talent. The Crew, however, always find a way to keep it tight and punish opposing teams for their own errors. Extra credit to this group for sticking together to persevere through potentially fatal injuries to William Hesmer, Julius James and Chad Marshall. B+

New England: Consider this rebuilding effort well and truly on track after the raft of offseason changes in Foxborough. The progress may not yield a playoff berth in the first year of the Jay Heaps regime, but the on-field fare will continue to entertain nonetheless. B+

Houston: Dom Kinnear continues to work wonders with the Dynamo. The acquisition of Boniek Garcia and the shift to a 4-3-3 formation may help the side in the second half, but the most important component remains that back four. If the defense can cut out some of those recurring errors even as Geoff Cameron prepares to head to England, then the Dynamo could coast into the postseason. B

Montreal: Steady as she goes for the Impact in the first half of a decent expansion season to date. Jesse Marsch has shown the required patience as he searches through his roster for potential building blocks. The influx of seasoned Italian campaigners suggests his realistic approach may not hold universal sway within the organization. B

Philadelphia: Not even the recent run of form by John Hackworth's young guns can erase the problems of the waning days under Peter Nowak. The departures of several key players may continue to haunt the Union as the season unfolds. C+

Toronto: The end of the Aron Winter era appeared inevitable after that horrific start to the season. The start to the Paul Mariner regime – bar that unfortunate ACL tear suffered by in-form Danny Koevermans over the weekend – bodes well for a brighter future. C-

Western Conference

San Jose: No team has secured more points. No team has made more significant strides since last season. No team enters the second half with a better chance to lift MLS Cup. A

Vancouver: Need a sign of how much progress the Whitecaps have made under Martin Rennie in terms of shape and style of play? Go back and watch tape from last season. It won't be hard to tell the difference. One caveat: will all of the recent changes (Kenny Miller, etc.) undermine that progress in the second half? A-

Real Salt Lake: With the standards as high as they are in Sandy, the Claret-and-Cobalt will expect far, far more in terms of week-to-week consistency in the second half of the season. Jason Kreis will certainly demand it as this veteran side ramps up for yet another postseason push. B+

Seattle: Sounders FC falls into the same category as RSL after a hot start fizzled into a club-record winless run. The pieces remain in place – with or without Alvaro Fernandez – to meet those lofty expectations in the Pacific Northwest.  B+

Colorado: The philosophical shift from pragmatism to artistry has encountered a few bumps along the way, as one might expect. All in all, the positives (especially the proficiency in keeping possession) outweigh the negatives in the first year of this ambitious project. B

Los Angeles: It took quite a while for the champions to find their legs and their motivation. The defense isn't quite there yet, but there are signs of hope for a side that expects to be there or thereabouts come November. B-

Chivas USA: This season always looked like the second step in the rebuilding efforts for Robin Fraser and company. A few more goals and a few more steps toward relevancy within league circles would make this bumpy ride just a little bit easier on everyone. B-

Portland: All of the optimism from the offseason dissipated rather quickly around JELD-WEN Field as the lingering problems from last season (consistency in the wide areas and quality in central midfield and defense) undermined the side again this season. John Spencer paid with his job after falling out with the front office and the Timbers now face an uphill task to recover during the second half of the campaign. Don't count them out entirely with that home form. C

FC Dallas: Injuries played their part in FCD's 13-match winless streak, but the composition of the squad (including a heavy reliance on frail and otherwise distracted players) has influenced the lack of success in Frisco this season, too. C

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and Contact him with your questions or comments at and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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