By Ryan Hunt
July 19, 2007

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
State of the union
It's the holy trinity of topics for MLS fans: expansion, single-table format (with promotion and relegation) and attracting more stars to MLS via the Designated Player rule. MLS commissioner Don Garber gave his take on those hot-button issues this week at his State of the League address and in his online chat. Here are some of the highlights.

On what's next for expansion in 2010 now that San Jose is in for '08: "I'm very confident that we will be able to announce a 16-team league by the end of the year. It's still a moving target as to what cities will flow in when. There's more interest in MLS expansion than at any other time in the history of the sport in the country. Without prioritizing any one market, here is a rundown of the cities: Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, San Diego, San Antonio, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Rochester, New York City, Atlanta, Miami and Las Vegas."
My take: It would be a real surprise if the next two teams weren't in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle or Portland) and the Northeast (New York No. 2 or Philadelphia).

On whether MLS will scrap its conference format in favor of a single table: "In our view, without promotion and relegation, the single table doesn't make that much sense. That being said, as we look at expanding, we perhaps could have more teams in the West than we do in the East and we might have to take a look at a different way of aligning our teams. And that could be a single table that will allow us to manage our playoffs in a way that would be easier to do than a conference set-up. Best answer to that is: We're thinking about it."
My take: This also looks like a no-brainer in 2010. A home-and-home series with each team makes for a seamless 30-game schedule, leaving room for SuperLiga and U.S. Open Cup.

On raising the DP limit: "We approved a three-year deal and it will stay that way for three years. Teams have the right to trade for the second player, as the Red Bulls have done, but the next two seasons after this one will remain as is. We look every year at our salary budget and we will continue to do that over the offseason. One of the things I think is so remarkable when you look at our salary budgets today, with the exception of the designated player rule, look at guys like (Guillermo Barros) Schelotto, (Juan) Toja, (Carlos) Marinelli; all of these guys are coming in within those salary budgets. So I'm not so sure the easy answer, which I think our fans ask for, is to raise the budgets and that guarantees we'll get better players. It's a matter of what decisions we make, and how well we're able to develop players ourselves and how ultimately we can manage what we spend."
My take: This is where MLS must be smart. With three teams set to join the league over the next three years, MLS will have to be creative in its player development. But MLS officials unquestionably learned a thing or two from the rise and fall of the NASL.
Best of the first half
Last week, we handed out the team-by-team reports cards. This week, let's review some of the biggest stars and surprises from the first half.

  • MVP: Eddie Johnson, Kansas City. As much as EJ is vilified for his national-team play, his MLS impact can't be argued: 10 goals in 10 games. K.C. is 7-2-1 with him, 0-3-3 without.
  • Breakout star: Maykel Galindo, Chivas USA He's made huge strides since arriving from Seattle of the A-League, scoring a team-high seven goals to help offset the offseason losses of Juan Pablo Garcia and Paco Palencia.
  • Best rookie: Adam Cristman, New England The 48th pick (out of 52) in the 2007 SuperDraft, Cristman leads all rookies with three goals and four assists and has made 11 starts -- critical for a team that spent six weeks without Taylor Twellman.
  • Biggest surprise: Ned Grabavoy, Columbus Overshadowed by the play of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the 5-foot-7 Grabavoy has been a key cog in Columbus' resurgence. Honorable mention: Houston's Stuart Holden.
  • Best coach: Curt Onalfo, Kansas City He has the Wizards on track to make the playoffs for the first time in three years, playing an exciting, all-out attacking style. Onalfo predicted big things from Johnson in the preseason; he was right.
  • Best trade: Houston getting Joseph Ngwenya from Columbus. The Zimbawean had been a enigma in his first three seasons in the league, scoring nine goals in 58 games and largely leaving Galaxy and Crew fans frustrated. But since his midseason trade Ngwenya has been a star -- six goals in 13 games to help boost Houston out of its early-season slump.
  • Games & Goals: More first-half superlatives
    My picks for the five best games of the first half:
    5. Real Salt Lake 3, New York 3, May 5: Two quality injury-time goals stun the Red Bulls
    4. Toronto FC 3, Chicago 1, May 12: Great day for MLS, not for the cushion clean-up crew
    3. New England 3, L.A. 2, May 12: Seconds after Galaxy equalizer, Twellman strikes back
    2. FC Dallas 3, D.C. United 3, July 14: Hoops pull off a remarkable rally from a 3-0 deficit
    1. Kansas City 4, N.E. 3, May 26: Down 2-0, K.C. nets 3 in 13 mins. before EJ's late winner

    ... and my top five goals:
    5. Gavin Glinton, Los Angeles vs. Columbus, June 23
    4. Chris Gbandi, FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake
    3. Juan Pablo Ángel, New York vs. Kansas City, June 16
    2. Jim Brennan, Toronto FC vs. Columbus, May 26
    1. Joseph Ngwenya, Houston vs. Chicago, July 12
    Rank LW Team
    1 3
    Houston Dynamo (10-5-3)
    Scored 15 goals since the last time they've conceded one
    2 3
    New England Revolution (7-3-5)
    Quietly, Andy Dorman is tied for fourth with seven goals
    3 2
    D.C. United (7-5-3)
    Uncharacteristically poor choices by Troy Perkins vs. FCD
    4 4
    FC Dallas (9-6-3)
    Just third MLS team ever to get a result after trailing 3-0
    5 6
    Chivas USA (7-5-3)
    Must prove they can win away from HDC; next 4 on road
    6 7
    Kansas City Wizards (7-5-4)
    Hartman has 4 shutouts in '07, MLS-best 66 in his career
    7 8
    Columbus Crew (5-5-7)
    Will Hesmer (4-1-2 in '07) has been a revelation in goal
    8 5
    New York Red Bulls (7-6-3)
    Red Bulls are not getting a DP-type impact from Reyna
    9 9
    Toronto FC (5-7-4)
    Absolutely peppered by shots, but held firm in Houston
    10 10
    Los Angeles Galaxy (3-5-4)
    MLS' No. 1 nightmare: If Becks aggravates ankle injury
    11 11
    Chicago Fire (4-8-4)
    Blanco will make Fire debut Sunday in friendly vs. Celtic
    12 12
    Colorado Rapids (4-8-5)
    Just cut their second-leading goal scorer, Roberto Brown
    13 13
    Real Salt Lake (1-8-6)
    Getting Beckerman for Ballouchy is a good move for RSL
    The three biggest questions of the second half
    1. -- What kind of impact will David Beckham have on the Galaxy? A big one, especially for two players: Landon Donovan and Carlos Pavon. A lot has been made of the Galaxy's awful start, but this team is far from buried. With a healthy Beckham -- and it now sounds as if he might not make his debut until next week's SuperLiga -- the 3-5-4 Galaxy could have one of the more potent attacks in the league.
    2. -- How long will Freddy Adu stick around? This summer will be Adu's swansong in MLS. The press in Europe is already buzzing about a bidding war for the U.S.' Under-20 standout player. Will it be Celtic FC? Will it be Spurs? Will it be Porto? Or Benfica? This much is for sure: It won't be Salt Lake for very much longer.
    3. -- Who's going to make the playoffs? Right now, only two teams -- RSL and Colorado -- look hopeless. Six others -- D.C., New England, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas and Chivas USA -- appear to be good shape. I also like Columbus to make it. The last spot will come down to a duel between N.Y. and L.A. But the Galaxy's hectic second-half schedule -- and Beckham's likely international call-ups -- give the edge to the Red Bulls, who very well could clinch the league's final playoff spot on the season's final day for the third consecutive year.

    1. Juan Toja
    FC Dallas

    2. Shalrie Joseph
    New England Revs

    3. Will Hesmer
    Columbus Crew
    Thursday, July 19
    MLS All-Stars 2, Celtic 1 (ESPN2) -- First Fulham, then Chelsea, now the Scottish champs
    Sunday, July 22
    New England 1, Houston 1 -- Dynamo's great shutout streak finally ends at 700+ minutes
    Columbus 1, Toronto FC 0 -- The Crew are looking for their fourth consecutive home win
    D.C. 2, New York 0 (TeleFutura) -- Minus Ángel (red), Bulls continue slide down East table
    Kansas City 2, Colorado 0 -- Rapids have a meager two points in their past eight games

    Last Week: 4-2; This season: 37-47
    Great to see San Jose back. Can't wait for the reincarnation of the Quakes-Galaxy rivalry.

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