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Aug 25, 2008

Ten things to note from MLS Week 22

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

1. GBS for MVP. What a delicious situation we have percolating in MLS, one filled with potential for political meddling or, even tastier still, fodder for conspiracy theorists.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto just keeps adding to his case for league MVP. He followed the previous week's two sensational assists with another Grade-A performance Saturday.

Schelotto converted a penalty kick (which he helped arrange), assisted on the Crew's two other goals and ran attack with his usual snap and crackle. No one is even close to his league-leading 14 assists.

He's the very heart of a side getting a lot right at the moment. Eddie Gaven seems to have gotten an IV of confidence. Robbie Rogers returned from the Olympics with something to prove. Chad Marshall is thriving, despite a revolving cast of mediocre center back partners. Brian Carroll has found the form that once made him valuable at D.C. United.

But here's the rub regarding Schelotto: Would MLS dare choose an MVP that wasn't deemed worthy of All-Star game participation?

That was a thoughtless call -- one that looks worse with each passing week.

2. A young man's game. Let's not take this too far, because Mike Magee and Claudio Reyna surely have manned different roles in the Red Bull midfield. Still, this deserves to be pointed out, along with a reminder that this game still is about running, generally the province of younger legs.

Reyna had no goals in 27 matches for Red Bull over two years. Magee has three goals in nine starts and eight other appearances this year. Just sayin'.

3. A sensible plea. Let's hope MLS takes a cue from the English Premiership's initiative to tamp down referee abuse. (Yes, MLS refereeing can be maddening for players. Still ...)

A similar initiative would help here, encouraging referees to deal with players who scream at them and generally misbehave. The EPL drive also is about reducing insolent acts in the technical areas. (Really, is there anything more pointless than chewing on the fourth official?)

The EPL, recognizing pro sports' role as a cultural leader, wants to send a better message.

Here's the perfect MLS example, which seems to play out every week: Sunday in New York, Seth Stammler, beaten by Ricardo Clark's nifty turn, reached out and grabbed the Houston midfielder. Not one of those quick shirt pulls, either. Stammler latched onto a big ol' handful and finally dragged down Clark from behind.

It was a clear yellow card, correctly issued by referee Edvin Jurisevic. What possible defense Stammler could mount, only he could imagine. And yet, there he was, somehow compelled to turn and let Jurisevic have it, screaming, utterly apoplectic.

And there's the message MLS sends every week by not stomping out such petulance. If you get a card or get called for a foul, go ahead and get your piece of the referee, kids. That's the way the pros do it.

4. Great bar room debate. Who just endured the most crushing downgrade in positional talent? Chivas USA, where Zach Thornton has replaced Brad Guzan in goal, or Toronto, where Kevin Harmse has replaced Maurice Edu in central midfield?

5. Dock the schedule maker's pay. Major League Soccer, like every pro league, has a lot of moving parts when it comes to scheduling. But how can it possibly justify playing two league matches on the first day of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying?

For instance, Houston met Chivas on Wednesday, with both teams missing starters who had international duty. Plus, fans had to choose which match to watch.

There were five consecutive weeks between April and May when neither club played midweek. Both teams surely would have preferred a contest then, before the schedule got jammed up with Open Cup, SuperLiga and CONCACAF Champions League. There simply is no excuse for such an oversight.

6. Houston has a problem. Houston has quite an issue in the back, where Eddie Robinson isn't anywhere close to his 2007 form. Last year, he was the Big Kahuna along a back line that established a league record for goals allowed.

Robinson was at least partially responsible this past weekend for all three Red Bull goals. On Sunday, Robinson was beaten for the first and third Red Bull goals. In between, he was lucky not to concede a penalty kick when he mugged Dane Richards near goal.

7. On the other hand. Houston looked pooped in Sunday's 3-0 setback. Still, what a situation Dominic Kinnear has, when he can start a match with Richard Mulrooney, Stuart Holden, Corey Ashe and Brian Ching on the bench. Also in reserve: Geoff Cameron and Patrick Ianni, either of whom could replace Robinson as Bobby Boswell's central partner in the back.

8. Career shift. Pablo Mastroeni had a good night in the U.S. shirt last week against Guatemala. Then, he had another so-so night for Colorado, where he sometimes seems indifferent about it all.

But honestly, who could blame him? He's done his time at the highly dysfunctional Denver club. For his sake, he needs to move. He's a few days from his 32nd birthday, so it should happen sooner rather than later.

Along the same lines, where has Christian Gomez's career gone when the former league MVP can't start for Colorado? Two games in a row now. Whoa.

9. Showing 'em who's No. 1. Looks like Schellas Hyndman has a couple of issues to deal with in Dallas.

Andre Rocha was clearly ticked at his 66th-minute replacement in Dallas' 1-1 draw in Kansas City. (His team's single goal came on his fabulous strike from 40 yards). The young Brazilian decided to leave the field instead of sitting with teammates, a big no-no.

And Jeff Cunningham, who keeps saying the right things, appeared to show the finger to referee Mauricio Navarro after being whistled offsides. (Or, perhaps it was directed at one of his teammates, which would be even worse.) Either way, it's a respect issue, one that Hyndman surely must address.

10. A real hard fall. Hard to say which way Real Salt Lake's midseason additions might take the team. So far, Western rivals Houston, Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles all seem to have improved, while the jury remains out in Utah. Robbie Russell debuted Saturday, following seven seasons in Norway and Denmark. He was OK. Hard to say, really, as the rest of the team, including newcomer Clint Mathis, was fairly useless.

Kyle Beckerman, outstanding through June, has fallen substantially, and big center back Jamison Olave seems suddenly unsettled. Given the strength of the East this year, the playoff stretch will be unforgiving for any team in the West that can't sort things out quickly.

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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