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Jul 4, 2008

Buddle finally living up to his potential

Buddle's reprise

At the season's halfway point, perhaps no player has enjoyed a better comeback than L.A. Galaxy forward Edson Buddle. The question is, where and what is he coming back from?

There was no major injury or catastrophic mechanism that cast him from team to team in recent seasons. Buddle was labeled a player who had all the requisite tools to be a goal-scoring force but was just missing that "something." Well, there's nothing missing now, as Buddle has exploded back onto the scene with 10 goals in his past seven games, taking the 27-year-old's career total to a robust 63 goals.

Buddle already has secured a place in MLS annals as the only player to record hat tricks for three different MLS clubs: one each for the Crew (2004) and Red Bulls (2006), and two this season for the Galaxy.

With the MLS All-Star Game approaching next month, I think commissioner Don Garber should use one of his commissioner's picks not on a high-priced newcomer to MLS but rather a player who has endured and persevered, a player whose story we all can feel good about. Why not Edson Buddle? I can't think of anyone more deserving. If I were commissioner for a day, he'd get my vote.

He's back

There's no player more respected by both his teammates and opponents in MLS than D.C. United's Ben Olsen. Olsen finally made his season debut in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Galaxy after offseason ankle surgery. In fact, Olsen received his MLS Best XI award from a wheelchair at last season's MLS award gala. His original timeline to return was March, but the spring thaw came and went in D.C. amidst questions that Olsen might not return at all this season (and some whispered of a possible retirement).

However, Olsen returned thanks to his trademark grit and determination that surely will see his No. 14 retired by D.C. when he calls time on an outstanding career. A humble Olsen told me after the match, "It's just good to be back. It's been a long road and it's just good to back with the team." I have a feeling the Barra Brava feels the same way, along with his friends and foes (if any) in MLS.

Missed it

There was probably no one in RFK Stadium who had a better view of Marcelo Gallardo's elbow to the nose of Landon Donovan than me. I was right at midfield just under the midfield camera when it happened. D.C. United's Gallardo threw an intentional elbow after the whistle had been blown for a foul.

As adults, we know that the game (and professional sports in general) can be that way sometimes. But kids don't know, not only the ones at the stadium but also those -- like mine -- who watched at home. If United's Ben Olsen had been bloodied by a vicious elbow, the Barra Brava would be up in arms. How do you explain why any foul such as the one Gallardo committed on Donovan doesn't merit an automatic red card? The problem is, you can't.

As parents, we can't always provide the answers, despite our desire to be an omniscient resource in our kids' lives. So I simply said to them, "The referee missed it." There can't be any other explanation.

Line of the week

As I waited for Los Angeles Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit to emerge from the visitor's locker room at RFK Stadium at halftime on Sunday, David Beckham walked out, fixing his captain's armband, and he turned to me and asked, "Was Landon offside?"

Beckham was referring to a first-half goal Donovan had scored that was disallowed by an offside flag. I responded, "It was very close, but I believe from our replays he was just off. It was very close." That's when L.A.'s Chris Klein -- truly one of the greatest guys to have ever played in MLS, who by then had joined our conversation -- stole the thunder: "Since when did the referees start being so precise?"

We (including Gullit now) all instantly burst into laughter as we walked back onto the field. It was a nice, fun moment within the serious confines of professional soccer.

A blind corner

Rob Base, the great lyrical poet of the 1980s, said, "It takes two." And the same can be said of corner kicks. Last August, David Beckham provided the service off corner kicks for goals by Carlos Pavon and Edson Buddle in that memorable 5-4 Galaxy loss to the Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. Since, then the Galaxy are 0-for-35 on Beckham's corner kicks (courtesy of my friend Peter Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau). Proof that Becks can bend 'em, but he can't score them at the same time.

Allen Hopkins covers Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer for ESPN. Look for Allen patrolling the sideline during "MLS Primetime Thursday." He can be reached at studiosports@yahoo.com.

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