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Jul 7, 2008

Eight things to note from MLS Week 15

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

1. Half the season down -- so who's the MVP? Good cases can be made for David Beckham, Matt Reis and Shalrie Joseph.

Beckham's case speaks for itself. Los Angeles' offense is weapons-grade and most attacks go through his clinical right foot. There are still times when Chris Klein or someone else hoofs in a cross or a low-percentage pass while Beckham idles nearby; that's almost always a bad idea.

Beckham has five goals in addition to that glorious service. No, he's not Brian Mullan when it comes to chasing defensively and supporting fullbacks. But the team scheme and other individuals' awareness of place should provide the defensive nitty-gritty.

The argument is similar for both New England players. The Revs never wilted during some early injury struggles, and most of the bracing was done by New England's veteran goalkeeper and its rangy central midfielder. For example, Joseph was at his bossing best in the first half Friday, as the Revs made shambles of the Galaxy midfield.

Joseph probably won't claim MVP honors because, simply, defensive midfielders don't win these awards. They probably won't until more journalists, announcers and analysts can educate the public on the value of a standout at that spot. Some big scorer will likely win MVP, but Joseph deserves serious consideration.

2. Déjà vu in Crew-ville. Dynamic Columbus rookie Emmanuel Ekpo resembles teammate Robbie Rogers, rife with raw talent but still getting his soccer brain around the pro game. Mostly he has to figure out when to attack defenders and when to back out and keep possession. So Sigi Schmid has a real conundrum when Eddie Gaven gets healthy. Production-wise, it's not even close -- Ekpo deserves to keep the spot.

3. Don't get caught downwind from the West. New England's win over Los Angeles in California inserted a nice punctuation mark on something everybody knew before the season hit midpoint: the West stinks.

Los Angeles can't get overcome its jayvee defending. Houston is one competent striker away from reclaiming its place as legit title defender. Chivas USA may never get healthy enough to overcome its current plateau. Dallas and Colorado are wildcards at best.

Meanwhile, New England, D.C., Columbus and Chicago are steeling themselves for a battle for Eastern supremacy, and any of them could make a worthy representative. So too might Toronto if John Carver's team can find its feet on the road.

4. Case closed. Abel Xavier has absolutely lost it. He's now just plain ineffective. The former Portuguese international lazily lost his man on New England's first goal Friday and didn't challenge properly on the Revs' second. Here we have a center back who can't perform the central functions of the job. There's really not much more to say.

5. Change may be afoot in Texas. A personnel shuffle is likely underway in Dallas, where the new boss wasn't happy with Friday's 1-1 home tie against Kansas City.

Schellas Hyndman tried hard not to be overbearing early, careful not to come off as the "new sheriff in town." But the intense manager with the martial arts pedigree wants more accountability. He wants players doing the little things he's asking for, and it sounds like he's getting tired of asking.

So those not on board may soon be outbound.

One player he wants around is Kenny Cooper, who still freelances too much on offense but keeps in good graces through attitude and productivity.

Hyndman told Cooper that he's proud of the recent offer from Rosenborg, and he genuinely wants what's best for the young U.S. international. Norway's top club has now improved its initial $1.25 million transfer offer. The stakes are rising, but Cooper's departure would make Hyndman's job tougher.

6. Boo to the Brit imitators. I'm not sure what American soccer fans did to deserve announcers who insist on calling the game "football" in our country. But whatever it was, we are truly, truly sorry.

American broadcasters and analysts who regularly refer to "football" would presumably have our sport regress into the insular world of subculture status. (Second Life, anyone?)

To keep assimilating into the mainstream, the sport should integrate, not separate. Domestic soccer deserves its own identity, not a bunch of pointless culture clashes over which is the "real football."

So you poseurs get over it (this does not include announcers actually raised in Great Britain, or who speak Spanish as a first language). Call it soccer, like the other 99 percent of us.

7. It's getting hot in the Red Bull kitchen. You've really got to ask questions about Juan Carlos Osorio's job status at Red Bull New York. After all, 12-11-7 and third place in the East got Bruce Arena fired. Osorio might struggle to reach that mark.

His bunch is 5-5-5 with a flagging minus-7 goal difference. Scarce availability from DPs Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna is a mitigating factor. But neither of them, at their healthiest, could have rescued a 4-0 loss to Colorado that could have been worse.

Things start unraveling fast once they turn south for a team -- and a Colorado whipping defines "south." Osorio can talk all he wants about getting new players during the upcoming transfer window. But his own tactical tinkering and continual rearranging of player roles gets old for the talent he has, players who appreciate routines and the opportunity to settle into roles.

6. Sparse crowds for Chivas USA. Chivas USA has a decent team, two good Mexican players (Claudio Suarez and Panchito Mendoza) and a couple young American difference-makers (Brad Guzan and Sacha Kljestan). And yet, Chivas struggles at the gate. Attendance at its last two home crowds, on fan-friendly nights, was listed generously at 13,561 and 16,379.

You've got to start wondering if the club's future is elsewhere, perhaps San Diego or somewhere closer to L.A.'s urban core.

7. What you shouldn't have missed from Round 15. Young New England attacker Sainey Nyassi tormenting the Galaxy; another game of big interventions for Galaxy center back Sean Franklin; another night where Joe Cannon keeps his team in the game with a handful of worthy saves; Ante Razov's 88th minute game-winning free kick; two very entertaining matches, L.A.-New England and Columbus-Chicago.

8. And what you were better off missing. More lame finishing from Real Salt Lake, a team that could be dangerous in the West if it can just gain confidence in the opposing penalty area; some very splotchy goalkeeping and defending from young Americans on both sides in the Columbus-Chicago draw.

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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