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Chelsea out to maul Black Cats

Chelsea 40 minutes ago
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Aug 11, 2008

Seven things to note from MLS Week 20

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

1. Further flux on Planet L.A.? A little something to ponder as we look for changes at the Home Depot Center -- which might be on the way as early as Monday:

The Galaxy have six more losses than wins (a 41-47-27 record) since Sigi Schmid's 2004 dismissal, when the team was in first place.

That's not to say that Schmid needed to remain in charge this entire time. That's a different debate. Point is, Los Angeles was doing OK, but someone at AEG believed the Galaxy, just because they were, well, "Galaxian," I suppose, wasn't properly exploiting a preordination for domestic dominance.

But that's a rickety platform. This isn't MLB or the EPL. Money and power simply can't purchase happiness in salary-capped MLS. There are no Yankees, no ManU's, etc. You have to earn your right to ensconce yourself as the "jewel" of MLS.

Now, as fresh stories of discord waft out of Victoria Street, we consider anew this feeling of entitlement. And here's the other common thread that steadily runs through all three rings of the ongoing Galaxy circus:

We never really know who makes decisions. Trying to nail down the true chain of command is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. Who makes all those dubious personnel decisions? Who signed off on 2007's breakneck schedule? Who forced David Beckham into action prematurely, etc.?

And now we hear that Beckham's handlers might have influenced the hiring of Ruud Gullit. (Examine photos from the news conferences introducing Beckham and, later, Gullit. You'll see the name of the company, 19 Entertainment, prominently emblazoned in the background at both, which isn't exactly standard MLS protocol. Hmmm.)

Gullit might turn into the John Wooden of MLS coaching, but that doesn't change the fact that Beckham's handlers shouldn't hold sway in the hire.

Show me a club with a bunch of meddling suits who don't know their places and I'll show you a club going nowhere -- no matter what they believe they are entitled to.

2. The magic number. In a year with more ties -- 27 percent of MLS matches have ended in draws this season versus 22 percent in 2007 -- it won't take quite as many points to reach the playoffs. Teams needed 40 points this past season to make the eight-team "tournament." This season, after 20 rounds of play, it looks like 38 points will make it.

So, go do the math for your team.

3. Instructions. "Stand there. Hope for the best:" It really has to be the simplest of soccer skills -- standing in the wall. And yet, somehow, these human barriers keep disintegrating. Indeed, there's a lot of it going around.

Juan Pablo Angel's free kick on Sunday in New Jersey was well-hit, but hardly unstoppable. What made it effective was Mike Magee, all 150 pounds of him, pushing United midfielder Clyde Simms off the end of the wall.

If Simms holds his ground, Angel's shot probably bounces harmlessly off his noggin.

4. Early returns on new Bulls. We'll have to wait a bit longer to properly judge Juan Carlos Osorio's midseason roster renovations. But the early returns are underwhelming.

Sunday debutante Gabriel Cichero might have a little something. But he and central midfielder Juan Pietravallo, another newcomer, raised red flags immediately with early yellow cards on Sunday. Both had cautions within the first 15 minutes. It's a serious team handicap when a starting center back in a three-man defense and starting defensive midfielder must cautiously drag around a yellow card for 75 minutes.

Luckily for them, United's defensive and goalkeeping frailties (Worst of the bunch? Marc Burch, Pat Carroll, Devon McTavish, Zach Wells? Take your pick.) rescued the Red Bull newbies' unwise, early choices.

Pietravallo must improve distribution to justify his acquisition. As for Cichero, he wasn't bad. But his introduction forced Jeff Parke, Red Bull's most reliable defender this season, into a new role. What message does it send to everyone else?

5. It wasn't just D.C.'s defense having a bad day. Shane Moody's performance in the middle during Sunday's Red Bull-United clash was at the bottom of the weekend MLS referee stack. He allowed way too much rough stuff early and then had to start issuing cards to gain some degree of control. Even then, it was dangerous to be a player out there.

Of course, it's not all Moody's fault. The U.S. Soccer federation assigns referees, and for this one they dropped a fellow with just six matches of MLS experience into the tinder box of a big rivalry, on a light weekend, no less, with more experienced types available. That hardly seems wise.

6. Lifetime achievement MVP. Shalrie Joseph sullied an otherwise outstanding performance -- yet another one -- with a silly stunt near the end of New England's surprising, late collapse on Saturday against nemesis Chicago.

But one senseless moment, for which he earned a second yellow, doesn't change this fact: Joseph has been the best player in MLS, front to back, this season. A little like in 2007. Or during 2006.

That said, some goal tiger with splashy stats will surly, once again, claim the league MVP Award. That's just how it goes. Too bad, too.

But at some point, Joseph deserves some kind of lifetime achievement MVP. The other day stood as a lone holding midfielder in a 4-4-2 (which Steve Nicol surely dumps like a bad girlfriend as soon as Michael Parkhurst returns). And yet Joseph still got forward, still distributed effectively, etc.

If there has been a better player in MLS over the past three years, someone needs to point him out for me.

7. Helping and hampering. MLS had a significant effect on Sunday's 2-2 Olympic team tie. One was good, one not so much.

The U.S. was clearly more fit, with six starters that are smack in the middle of their MLS seasons. Most have recently played in some oppressive conditions here. For instance: the heat and humidity in China probably don't bother Stuart Holden, who trains in worse every day in Houston.

Now, on the other hand: Peter Nowak's men dealt poorly with the match's waning minutes, as chances were missed to kill time and poor choices were made near both goals.

Perhaps if more MLS matches actually mattered, more players would gain the kind of smarts and shrewd determination to deal with such scenarios. MLS matches are gradually meaning more, but currently more teams still make the playoffs than miss them. As the balance continues to shift, contests necessarily gain in meaning -- and players improve their ability to deal with them.

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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