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Jun 30, 2008

Ten things to note from MLS Week 14

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

1. Paths of least resistance. The complete scouting report on attacking the Galaxy in two words: Go left!

Teams facing the L.A. Beckhams understand there will be ample opportunity to supply a nice selection of crosses from the left against David Beckham and Chris Klein. Granted, Beckham isn't paid ridiculous money to shut down crosses. Still, way too many goals against Ruud Gullit's team have originated off service that Beckham and Klein fail to shut down.

FYI, kids, here's what to do when an attacker is about to smack a cross: Don't jump. Don't turn your head. Just stand there.

Guess which two of those Beckham did on United's second goal?

2. Credit where it's due. Luciano Emilio can stand in front of the line as they hand out glory for D.C. United's June revival. He deserves it, with nine strikes in D.C.'s past six matches. But less heralded is a newly stabilized back line, one that especially looks better on the outside. Bryan Namoff has been outstanding all season, quietly getting the business done, game in and game out. And Gonzalo Martinez had his second consecutive monster match at left back, where he seems more at ease than when he's in the center.

Meanwhile, Gullit is correct to keep harping about how L.A.'s rear guard ineptitude is about "team defending." Still, he should also just 'fess up that his back line is lousy and needs more help than a three-SUV family.

3. My little soccer brain developed this theory. Abel Xavier sure seems to appear in the picture a lot when goals happen against L.A. So I wondered if it was statistically true that the Galaxy allows goals at a greater rate when the scary fellow roams? The answer: Yes -- but not by a significant degree.

Xavier has played 61 percent of the Galaxy minutes this year. He has been on the field for 64 percent of the goals.

4. Still on the subject of stats. The Revs talked up midfielder Mauricio Castro earlier this year, but he has contributed little to New England's nice campaign. You can see it in matches for yourself, or you can just let the numbers tell the story. Through almost half the season he has no goals and just one assist while starting every contest. Compare that to the prodigious Steve Ralston, who has six goals and three assists in 11 appearances.

5. Another weekend of hack and whack soccer. Referee Kevin Stott was wildly overmatched as FC Dallas visited Houston in the physical Texas derby. Guys ran up on each other's backs with impunity. Marcelo Saragosa hacked away without repercussions. No red card when Pablo Ricchetti fouled from behind as the last defender? Not even a foul as Ricardo Clark chopped Dominic Oduro from behind at the top of the penalty area?

All of this begs this question: We always hear that MLS "is a physical league." But who has proclaimed it so? Who made that call? Was it commissioner Don Garber? Or deputy commish Ivan Gazidis? Is it referee supervisor Joe Machnik who prefers that the advantage go to hacks and thugs over more skillful players?

Simply put, those three, along with the owners, do have the power to create a league that's easier to watch.

6. Plenty of candidates. Just when I was sure Stott would surely claim the prize for the week's worst officiating, Jair Marrufo proved me wrong on Sunday, on national TV. Jaime Moreno absolutely cleaned out Beckham without so much as a verbal warning. Later, Marcelo Gallardo needed two swipes at Landon Donovan before finally drawing blood, right in front of the fourth official.

Did I just imagine it, or wasn't there a league directive this year to crack down on players hands around faces?

7. A bad week for Argentines. Argentines were so "last year" in MLS. Oh, sure, some are still doing OK. But three fellows from the land of beef and bad hair got their walking papers this past week: Franco Neill (United), Nico Hernandez (Columbus) and Eloy Colobano (K.C.).

Meanwhile, let's go ahead and proclaim this the Year of the African in MLS. What guys like Sainey Nyassi and Kheli Dube started, Emmanuel Ekpo and others are continuing in 2008.

8. Tough guys cry, too, apparently. FC Dallas' Saragosa can't have it both ways: he can't be a tough-enough, ball-winning enforcement arm on the one hand -- and also be somebody who flops and rolls, and attempts to draw cheap cards on the other.

He's pulled this cynical number twice against Houston. In May he baited Eddie Robinson, who petulantly shoved Saragosa in the chest. The FC Dallas midfielder dropped like an anchor, then rolled around holding his head.

Last week in Houston, Saragosa took two steps after being swatted by Dwayne De Rosario before falling, "injured."

It's time for the league to send Saragosa a message via suspension for these shenanigans. Failing that, new manager Schellas Hyndman should pull the guy aside for a talking to. Subject: How to be an honest soccer player.

9. What you shouldn't have missed from Round 14. Dane Richards' inspired, industrious performance for Red Bull New York; Yet another night of Robbie Rogers tearing up the left flank for Columbus; A nice night by Real Salt Lake defender Jamison Olave (that was spoiled when Kansas City struck late for a 1-0 win); Yeoman work by San Jose defensive midfielder Ramiro Corrales, his best night by far at the spot; Emmanuel Ekpo's 50-yard dash and game-winning strike for Columbus; Fire center back Bakary Soumary with some big interventions at Toyota Park.

10: ... And what you were better off missing. Jeff Parke's spectacular blunder that cost Red Bull a goal against Chivas USA. (Teammate Dave Van den Bergh called it "childish." Spot on!); Every minute of a particularly dour Chivas USA-Red Bull NY match; Chicago's third consecutive game without a goal.

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

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