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May 5, 2008

Ten things to note from Week 6

Sweeping up after the MLS weekend party, here are 10 things I found lying around:

1. Did some diseased, stowaway vermin introduce a terrible malady through Major League Soccer seaports? Defenders and midfielders seem generally immune.

But MLS forwards have been quite vulnerable.

As teams clump together, largely unable to sort themselves into a respectable class structure so far, one of the common denominators in this mishmash is the raging ineffectiveness of so many strikers.

Some of it is injury-related: See New England, New York and Chivas USA. Some of it is offseason defection related: See Houston. Some is about personnel choices: See San Jose and Colorado. Some is simply about flagging performance: See D.C. United.

With Taylor Twellman still injured, the Revs are having a devil of a time finding their forwards. Adam Cristman and Kenny Mansally have combined for just two goals, and New England already has been blanked twice at home.

Red Bull New York is plodding along, lacking danger from injury-nicked Juan Pablo Angel. Similarly ailing Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo have only one goal apiece for Chivas USA.

At least the team can lean on a reasonable expectation of improvement once fully fit. Not so with Houston, barring some roster upheaval. Dominic Kinnear may soon be seen in Austria, asking around for the whereabouts of Joseph Ngwenya and Nate Jaqua.

At RFK, Luciano Emilio is on pace to drop from 20 goals in 2007 to about five. Yuck.

Meanwhile, Alejandro Moreno has four goals for top-of-the-table Columbus. And FC Dallas starting forwards Kenny Cooper and Arturo Alvarez have combined for six. It's no coincidence that those are first-place teams.

2. Speaking of forwards: It's fascinating to think about the three-headed attacking monster Los Angeles can soon unleash on hapless defenses. Carlos Ruiz is perhaps two weeks from a return. Then the little Galacticos will have Landon Donovan running at teams from deep positions, with Ruiz stationed up high. David Beckham can aim those pinpoint balls at both of them. All that will severely stretch defenses.

It probably will take three or four goals each night to beat Los Angeles. But here's the real kick in the head: Plenty of teams will get there, given the jayvee defending around Planet L.A.

3. The Sunday conundrum was a head-scratcher for MLS way back in 1996 and still is today.

Sunday matches are desirable because they deliver another weekly television destination, this one a double value. The league needs Spanish-language TV to help convert more Latino soccer lovers.

But Sunday matches are historically tough on the gate. All MLS matches are averaging 15,636 in attendance. But the past four Sunday contests have drawn just 12,381 on average.

4. Buck Shaw Stadium's coming-out party could only have improved if the Earthquakes had scored. The little venue was jam-packed. It sounded great and looked even better. A $4 million renovation ensured an immaculate pitch. All of which begs the question: If a smaller community such as San Jose can unearth a smaller, more intimate venue option, why couldn't the franchise in New York?

A proper venue is coming for RBNY. Still, all those years in Giants Stadium have sucked away resources from MLS in exorbitant lease fees. What a waste.

5. We need more time to judge United's big Gomez-Gallardo gamble, to assess once and for all whether Colorado or United came out better. But so far it's all Colorado.

United jettisoned Christian Gomez to make room for a new Argentine midfield flavor, Marcelo Gallardo. The teams met Sunday for the first time, when Gomez found a way to be a difference-maker. Gallardo never did.

Clyde Simms had generally neutralized Gomez. But the Rapids' playmaker spun nicely away from Simms and hit a sweet pass that turned into goal No. 1. Later, Gomez helped keep the ball alive under heavy pressure, making way for the Rapids' insurance strike.

6. I can't quite endorse Colorado goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul and his theatrics, his unconventional and yet strangely successful methods, the silliness of "Bouna Time" and the other comedy that unfolds around the goal at DSG Park. But I'll say this: His high jinks make MLS a more interesting place.

7. My unofficial and completely arbitrary list, in no particular order, of the best MLS time-wasters in goal: Joe Cannon, Coundoul and Matt Reis.

8. In case anyone's wondering, Columbus midfield buzz saw Adam Moffat, 22, cannot be rookie of the year. He played in one match for Columbus last year.

That's too bad, too. Moffat's industry is a big part of Columbus' fast start. He does a lot of work behind Guillermo Barros Schelotto, allowing the Argentine attacker to float, probing for a defense's vulnerable spots on a given day.

Still, that shouldn't keep Moffat from being regarded as one the real finds of 2008.

9. Diego Gutierrez may be one of Major League Soccer's all-time underrated values. Back in the day he toiled away, a bit too anonymously, in Chicago and Kansas City. If he wasn't hidden in the Kansas City heartland, he was relegated to valet duty behind better known players in Chicago.

He could ably man the middle of the midfield or torment the left wing. Besides all that, he's been a remarkable representative for MLS.

Now in his final season, the Colombian vet is having an outstanding campaign as a central, defensive organizer. Chicago has allowed a league-low three goals.

10. Little things on my mind … Hunter Freeman finally got back on the field for RBNY, and I forgot that he might be the best crosser among all right backs in the league. … Take away a penalty kick, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco has just goal and one assist in six matches. It's not a problem because Chicago is winning. For now. … How good can Chris Rolfe -- who scored a nice goal over the weekend -- be if he can remain healthy for a nice, long stretch? … I'm wondering how much Dax McCarty's impending absence to fix a sports hernia might hurt FC Dallas. He has been strong for Dallas all year. … How can L.A. pay a guy $150,000 if he refuses to play on artificial turf? Plus, Abel Xavier just isn't that good anymore.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.