First XI: Report card time

D Six losses in 11 games is simply not acceptable for a veteran team like the Revs. Sure, there have been injuries to slow down Steve Nicol's squad, but that's not enough of an excuse for the Revs' league-low total of nine points. On the plus-side, there's the continued development of Pat Noonan and the emergence of rookie Clint Dempsey. On the downside, there's Taylor Twellman's one goal in the eight games he played before getting injured. Nicol's teams have proved in the past couple of years to be better in the second half of the season than the first and there's no reason to think this New England squad won't do the same thing. The Revs are still a playoff team.

10. Colorado Rapids -- D With only six goals in 10 games, the Rapids have been a tough team to watch to this point in the season. Jean-Phllippe Peguero looks the part so far, but without a healthy John Spencer, Colorado seems to lack the hunger for goals. If the Rapids do not pick up the pace offensively, we'll start to hear whispers about the age of some of the team's offensive standouts. The one thing the Rapids do seem to have going for them is that they're tough at home (though not a "lock" as was proved last week, d'oh!) and must know down deep that their best soccer is still to come.

9. MetroStars -- C- It all looked very promising after a 2-0 start and some big scoring numbers. But since their home opener, which was the day Fabian Taylor scored two to lead the Metros to a 3-2 victory over D.C. United, the MetroStars have won just once. Taylor and fellow newcomer Cornell Glen have shown they can score in MLS, but have not shown any flair for combination play. Sergio Galvan Rey has had chances to make his mark, but has not shown even a hint of the finishing skill he displayed for so many years in the Colombian first division. This is a team that certainly hoped to have a grip on its lineup and playing style by the 10-game mark. Instead they remain a work-in-progress.

8. D.C. United -- C Peter Nowak has succeeded in making D.C. a passionate and organized team, but United still need to find some goals somewhere. Jaime Moreno has had a decent comeback season and Alecko Eskandarian is capable of scoring the great goal. But if United is going to return to the playoffs, they're either going to have to become masters of the 1-0 victory, or improve their ball movement and creativity. On the positive side, D.C. is tough to beat at RFK and bound to improve under Nowak's intense direction. Look for them to be in a playoff-tussle with the Metros, Revs and Crew.

7. Chicago Fire -- C There are many times when the Fire look unbeatable. But here they sit with only four wins in 11 games. Who'd have thought it was possible for the Fire to lose home games to Dallas and Columbus? Anyway, when Dave Sarachan has his full complement of players, the Fire are the most talented, most tenacious team in MLS. It's not only Ante Razov and Damani Ralph who make the Fire dangerous, but their well-oiled central midfield and league-best wing play. Look for the Fire to be cranking on all cylinders by July and winning a second straight Supporters Shield by season's end.

6. San Jose Earthquakes -- C Winning a tough game last Saturday without Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad may be just what first-year head coach Dominic Kinnear needs to get the Quakes to the next level. From a sheer excitement point of view, the Quakes are the best team in MLS to watch on a weekly basis. They attack with great speed and creativity. The results have not come yet, but they will.

5. Columbus Crew -- B The Crew should provide inspiration for every team in MLS. Their unbeaten string of seven games has lifted them out of the basement and into Eastern Conference title contention. Columbus has decided to play more of a counter-punching game and have shown during this run that they can withstand many blows to the body. Jeff Cunningham is providing inspiration up front and all over the field there appears to be a "nobody likes us and we don't care" attitude. They remind me of the '02 Revolution, who rode that mentality to the MLS Cup Final. Given that the Crew started out 0-3-2, they deserve a high mark simply for determination and guts.

4. Dallas Burn -- B Colin Clarke's squad earned this high mark by winning its last two games in convincing fashion. The Burn -- coming off such a horrendous season -- got off to a good start, which was much needed. But after they stumbled through an 0-4-2 stretch, Clarke needed to get the ship righted quickly, and he did just that. The Burn are the prototype "hard to beat" team. What remains to be seen is if they can evolve from that into a team that is a good bet to win on a weekly basis. Still, to this point, no one can say the Burn have not exceeded expectations.

3. Kansas City Wizards -- B+ By going 2-0-1 so far on their five-game road trip -- with wins at The Home Depot Center and Invesco Field -- the Wizards elevated themselves from a C to a B+ and look to be a team that's going to be in the thick of the race all summer long. Josh Wolff is back to his Olympic form, which means he's among the most dangerous one-on-one forwards in the league. Tony Meola is a known commodity in net, which gives the Wizards a lot of confidence in tight games. And the relatively unknown Davy Arnaud has shown he cannot be left alone or he's capable of punishing you. Steady as she goes for the Wizards, who should hang with the Galaxy the entire way out West.

2. Los Angeles Galaxy -- A- As you can see, I'm a tough marker. But across the board, from player-selections to game tactics, it's hard to find anything wrong with the Galaxy so far. Jovan Kirovski has proven that he's among the top American attacking players. Andreas Herzog can add his name to the list that includes of best veteran signings that includes the likes of Roberto Donadoni and Nowak. And just when you think Cobi Jones has seen his better days, he proves why he's arguably the best U.S. field player ever in MLS. The Galaxy play good soccer, which is aided by their large home field, but they are also a hard-working team that always comes prepared to fight.

1. Overall Assessment The Galaxy and Fire are the class of the league, as reflected in the standings. Both should be able to hold on to their top spots. What's going to be interesting is how the rest of the playoff brackets fill out as the summer moves along. Will the MetroStars ever click? Will the Crew be able to continue with its bend but don't break style? Can Wolff stay healthy? Are the Rapids going to go on a mid-season climb similar to last season? All good questions. We'll take a look at how it's all playing out again when we reach the 20-game mark ... on or about Aug. 1.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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