McCarthy's Musings: Marco Di Vaio, Portland Timbers headline top performers as MLS hits halfway point

The first half of the campaign offered more than its fair share of standouts, surprises and thrills.
Most of all, it also offered an overt lesson in the overarching governing principle of the league: in the regular season, parity rules. How else to explain FC Dallas, Montréal and Portland climbing into the upper reaches of the table? Or D.C. United and San Jose slipping into the abyss?

The usual turnover paved the way for new powers and new stars to emerge during the first half of the campaign. Their hard work deserves plenty of plaudits, but it is, unfortunately, nowhere near done. As the upheaval from year to year (and even month to month) indicates, success often waxes and wanes.

For now, a few players and teams stand out above the pack. They will take bows now in full knowledge that the situation could change drastically by the time MLS Cup is awarded in December.

Team of the half-season: Portland Timbers

Everyone – well, perhaps not the folks in this part of the world – expected improvement this season. Few people anticipated a 15-match unbeaten run and a complete overhaul of the playing style in short order. It is nothing short of an astounding turnaround from Caleb Porter (rewarded here for his considerable efforts) and his players. The big question at the moment: can the Timbers sustain their good form for the duration of the campaign?

Honorable mention: Montréal Impact, Real Salt Lake

MVP of the half-season: Marco Di Vaio, Montreal

The veteran Italian striker took a while to settle into MLS, but he showed what he learned from the start of this season. Few strikers prod for openings more consistently or more profitably. No player rides the offside line better than he does. And the Impact – even with its compact defensive shape – would not top the Eastern Conference (or come particularly close to doing so) without his ample production inside the penalty area (11 goals, tied for the league lead).

Honorable mention: Robbie Keane, Los Angeles; Mike Magee, Los Angeles/Chicago

Coach of the half-season: Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake

RSL altered its long-standing core during the offseason to relieve salary budget concerns. The losses of Fabián Espíndola, Will Johnson (one of the season's outstanding performers) and Jámison Olave could have crippled the Claret-and-Cobalt. They instead galvanized the remaining members of the squad and paved the way for a new crop of players to emerge through the ranks. Kreis molded the group together and pushed it through a spotty opening stretch to its current perch atop the Western Conference.

Honorable mention: Caleb Porter, Portland; Marco Schällibaum, Montréal

Goalkeeper of the half-season: Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake

Rimando will step into spotlight during the U.S. run through the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It is a deserved star turn for one of the league's most consistent performers. His numbers are once again stellar, but it is his steady work – always a rock, rarely a liability – during uncertain times that places him atop this heap.

Honorable mention: Donovan Ricketts, Portland; Bobby Shuttleworth, New England

Defender of the half-season: José Gonçalves, New England

Gonçalves emerged from the reserves at FC Sion to marshal the best defense in league at this juncture in the season. His no-nonsense approach to his duties makes him a nightmare for opposing forwards, while his leadership endears him to his teammates. And the man shields the ball over the end line with the sort of vigor most defenders cannot even muster as they tussle for the ball in tense situations.

Honorable mention: Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles; Alessandro Nesta, Montréal

Newcomer of the half-season: Claudio Bieler, Sporting Kansas City

Sporting desperately lacked a predatory finisher inside the penalty area last season. Bieler's arrival solved that particular issue with some aplomb. His reliable production in front of goal – eight goals in 19 games – supplies exactly the sort of sharpness Sporting needs to take the next step in the postseason.

Honorable mention: Michel, FC Dallas; Diego Valeri, Portland

Rookie of the half-season: Andrew Farrell, New England

So much for those rookie wobbles. Farrell looked like a veteran from the moment he stepped on the field at Toyota Park in the Revolution's opening match of the season. Aside from a few typical learning experiences along the way, he lived up to those standards in subsequent matches. The modest amount of allocation money dispatched for the right to select him with the first pick in the SuperDraft represents a tidy piece of business in both the short- and long-term.

Honorable mention: Deshorn Brown, Colorado; Dillon Powers, Colorado

Best XI of the half-season: Rimando (Real Salt Lake); Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia), Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Gonçalves (New England), Michel (FC Dallas – natural position); Will Johnson (Portland); Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Magee (Chicago); Di Vaio (Montreal), Keane (Los Angeles)