Questions that will define each MLS club in the second half of 2018
With some teams having already played more than half their games, and with Major League Soccer having come out the other side of its World Cup break, this feels like an appropriate juncture to take a hard look at where everybody stands. At the halfway point, which burning question is likely to define the rest of each club's season?
Atlanta United: Can offense win championships? The Supporters' Shield leaders boast an explosive attack which is a sight to behold. Can they lock things down at the other end of the field come playoff time, or might they pour in enough goals that it doesn't even matter?
Chicago Fire: What happened to last year's hot start? Around this time a year ago, the Fire's turnaround story was the toast of the league. Then they lost six of seven, were routed by the New York Red Bulls on home turf in the playoffs and have since struggled to replicate those heights.
Colorado Rapids: How on earth did the Rapids make the conference finals in 2016? That's about all I've got on this one.
Columbus Crew SC: Which city will the club call home next season: Columbus or Austin? Until that is resolved, all on-field concerns are secondary.
D.C. United: Can United make the most of its fresh start at its new stadium? Even with Wayne Rooney in the fold, there are ominous signs that D.C. is not entirely ready for its close-up.
FC Dallas: Are the chemistry issues resolved? Last season's summertime swoon is even more inexplicable now that FCD has recovered its mojo. Are the underlying issues truly a thing of a past, or might Dallas again start to splinter?
Houston Dynamo: Can the Dynamo take the next step? Western Conference finalists in 2017, the Dynamo again look like a playoff dark horse. Can they find another gear and join the ranks of legitimate title contenders?
LAFC: Is this the Western Conference front-runner? Expansion team or not, a strong case can be made that this group has a higher ceiling than anybody else on their side of the bracket.
LA Galaxy: Are the wheels going to fall off? They're certainly wobbling on their axles.
Minnesota United: How long will Loons fans remain patient? The club's slow-and-steady team-building approach asks a lot of supporters to stay engaged with this second-year franchise.
Montreal Impact: How bad can it get? One of the league's worst goal differentials (-9) hint that the Impact haven't yet scraped rock bottom.
New England Revolution: Do the Revs have enough talent to sneak into the playoffs? So far, first-year coach Brad Friedel has done a remarkable job.
New York City FC: What is this club's identity post-Patrick Vieira? For a coach who spent only two and a half years in the Big Apple, Vieira certainly left his fingerprints all over NYCFC's vision of itself.
New York Red Bulls: What is this team's ceiling? Jesse Marsch touts this as the best team he's ever had. For a franchise crying out for some positive history, does that equal some long-overdue silverware?
Orlando City SC: What now? Having now fired coaches midseason in two of their four MLS campaigns, I'm not even sure the Lions' ownership group could give much of an answer to that question.
Portland Timbers: Is this hot streak sustainable? The Timbers come out of the World Cup break unbeaten in 10 across all competitions, which catapulted them up the standings following a slow start.
Real Salt Lake: Move forward or blow it up? Despite sitting in fifth in the West coming out of the break, RSL seems to be going back and forth with that question.
San Jose Earthquakes: Does North America's longest outdoor bar serve hard alcohol? That's about the only way Quakes fans are making it through October.
Seattle Sounders: How much of a difference can one player make? Raul Ruidiaz is exactly the type of player the Sounders need, but his midseason signing might come too late to save a team sitting 11 points out of a playoff place.
Sporting Kansas City: Why should anyone believe this year is different? The first-place team in the West has started hot before, but seems to always falter down the stretch. Until Sporting keep the good vibes going into October, a degree of skepticism is necessary.
Toronto FC: When is TFC finally going to turn it on? If the defending champs wait too long, the gulf with the East's playoff contenders will be too wide to bridge.
Vancouver Whitecaps: What are the limits to the Whitecaps' approach? Carl Robinson has wrung a lot out of a bare-bones roster, but there's a sense that the natives are getting restless with ownership's lack of financial commitment.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.