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May 12, 2008

Things to note from Week 7

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

1. Sexy in L.A. Members of soccer's chattering class have stepped all over each other for a year now, hurrying to poke fun at the Galaxy. The targets have been just too fat and slow to resist. In hunters' parlance, it has been an old-fashioned turkey shoot.

So it's only fair to illuminate the good stuff, too. And it must be said that L.A. is trying to play attractive soccer at the moment. It might not always be well put together, as witnessed by Saturday's loss to the Red Bulls. But let's toast Ruud Gullit's men for at least attempting to play the right way.

Under the Dutchman's direction, the L.A. midfielders are settling into their roles. They move the ball quickly in the middle third and get the team into the attack without a lot of dillydallying.

The final third still lacks some sophistication and imagination. But things have improved so much from Round 1 to Round 7 that there is reason to believe Gullit can coach up the missing element. To some extent, anyway.

The defense? It's still a mess (outside of the ageless Chris Klein, who continues to contribute a boundless supply of effective overlapping runs). There still are times when other defenders must conquer the urge to unfurl long, low-percentage passes. Finding David Beckham or Landon Donovan with something simple is almost always the best option.

2. Trade winds blowing? L.A. director of soccer Paul Bravo and GM Alexi Lalas have an opportunity before them. If they can work some creative magic, we'll be saying, in our best "Pulp Fiction" Jules Winnfield voice, "Well, look at the big soccer brain at the HDC now!"

Situation: The Galaxy defense, conceding more than two goals a game, badly needs patching.

Situation: Wilman Conde is languishing on the Chicago Fire bench. Officials at Toyota Park are in no hurry to reduce their stash of back line depth -- right now. But C.J. Brown will return sooner or later. Plus, Denis Hamlett and staff are high on new signing Lider Marmol, who soon will have his work permit.

At that point, assuming Chicago's defense continues humming right along, the deciders at Toyota Park probably will think differently about Conde. Soon, the risk of keeping a malcontent in the locker room will outstrip his value as an A-list backup. Then, the Fire probably will take 60 cents on the dollar, so to speak, in trade value just to be rid of the guy.

The problem for the Galaxy, of course, is that everything they would consider trading has all the value of a bucket of warm spit. So this is where Bravo and Lalas must get creative. If they can somehow bundle up a package of personnel assets or involve another club in some three-way deal, somehow luring Conde, they'll be trade-making superstars.

3. Keeper shenanigans. Was there any doubt that Bouna Coundoul was the most likely candidate among all MLS goalkeepers to completely whiff on a ball outside the penalty area and allow an empty-netter?

4. Trouble in the capital. D.C. United has been awful away from home going back to 2007, without a road win since Sept. 1, 2007. In 10 matches away from RFK, United has six losses, four ties and just five goals scored. They have been shut out this year at Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Colorado.

This country hasn't seen anything this bad on the road since the last Vanilla Ice tour dates. Now, Tom Soehn's men are away from Washington for three of their next four. Ruh-row!

Add it all up, and things aren't looking so sunny for Soehn. His team crashed out of the playoffs too early last year, so roster tweaking was in order. But he did more than tweak. He tore down and rebuilt, a pretty bold move considering D.C. was a Supporter's Shield winner in '07. So the boss bears lots of responsibility for current, crappy results.

Plus, Soehn is a grinder and not a particularly easy guy to get along with. You have to wonder whether he has lost his players, who don't seem to work hard for each other.

Some MLS manager will be the first to lose his job this year. Right now, Soehn has to be considered the odds-on choice.

5. Solid footing. On the surface, you could say things aren't much better at Houston. The Orange have just seven points from seven matches. United has six points from seven.

But what's happening in Houston is a whole different jar of pickles. First, Dominic Kinnear has something Soehn doesn't: consecutive MLS titles. That buys a man a lot of time.

While D.C. United has more issues than Time Magazine, Houston seems not as hopelessly adrift. The Dynamo need more from their forwards, and Dwayne De Rosario needs to pick it up. It's pretty much that simple.

Barring some improbable, spectacular collapse, Kinnear has accomplished enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt.

6. Getting it all wrong. Referee Mark Geiger, who usually does a decent job managing matches, had a bad afternoon Sunday in Los Angeles. To allow Revs fullback Chris Albright to bark aggressively at him with impunity was bad enough. But allowing Chivas USA's Daniel Paladini to remain on the field after his horrible, two-footed tackle on Jeff Larentowicz was dreadful. Remember, Larentowicz was ejected for something very similar earlier this year.

7. Team spirit. Want to watch a team whose players work hard for each other? Check out the Chicago Fire.

John Thorrington and Chris Rolfe are running their little red-and-black wheels off, selflessly hustling and chasing, providing the midfield defensive cover so Cuauhtemoc Blanco doesn't have to. Rolfe, playing as a striker the past two weeks, still drops into the space behind Blanco once Chicago loses the ball.

On a bad team, or a side without as much esprit de corps, players might get jealous: "Why am I always running for Blanco? I can make a pass, too!"

Of course, no one in Chicago can see those passes or deliver them like Blanco. And the players seem to understand that. That's why Hamlett's debut managerial season is unfolding so nicely.

Well, that and the fact that Blanco, Rolfe and Thorrington have been so opportunistic that Chicago has generated goals while generally attacking with about four guys. Everybody else can happily sit back, conserving their energy and might for defense.

Everyone except Conde, that is. And he needs to be in Los Angeles, anyway.

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