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Sep 1, 2008

Five things to note from MLS Week 23

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

1. Which Ruiz is that again? I keep hearing Toronto manager John Carver, in harmony with journalists and broadcasters, singing praise of Carlos Ruiz, going on about what he brings to a team.

But I don't know which Ruiz they are watching.

The Ruiz I see now is nothing close to the $400,000 striker he once was. I see a one-dimensional forward who is no longer particularly handy with that one dimension. He's not fast enough to get behind defenses, and no longer quick enough to create opportunity off the dribble. I see a fellow who never quite looks fit, who is completely dependent on good service -- but not mobile enough to craft the runs to exploit balls into the box. I see a fellow whose party-guy lifestyle makes him, effectively, older than his 28 years.

I'm not even sure how much he cares anymore. He doesn't even foul and flop like he used to. And it shows; Ruiz's productivity has dropped steadily for years now. He has a scant two goals in his last 15 MLS matches, including his dull TFC debut Saturday.

And don't forget, Guatemala has more qualifiers upcoming. That's when Ruiz's truancy problems always nip at him, as "Pescadito" visits his homeland. He's pretty good about making those south-bound flights. But the return legs, somehow, always prove tricky. That goes back to his first stint in Los Angeles, and later to his days in Dallas.

Ruiz is not the answer at BMO. He may not be an answer anymore, period.

2. On the other hand. You want to see a fellow who is flat-out getting it done? Watch San Jose's Darren Huckerby, who is certainly the league's best attacker out of midfield at the moment.

He works as hard as anyone. He absolutely owns the left wing right now, always available, free to expend extra energy on offense thanks to the defense and goalkeeping that Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop prioritized during roster construction.

Huckerby also makes great choices with the ball; when to attack on the dribble or when to cross, when to push the pace or when to wait for reinforcements. With another goal over the weekend, a bravely taken game-winner against Kansas City, he's a big reason the Earthquakes are undefeated in seven matches. One more establishes a league high this year -- dandy stuff for an expansion outfit.

3. A big little addition. With all that Louis Crayton has done to stabilize United's messy goalkeeping situation, it would be easy to overlook the less-heralded addition of Joe Vide. United collected the young midfielder off waivers from San Jose, when Francisco Lima's addition made Vide expendable for the Bay Area bunch.

Vide and D.C. United central partner Clyde Simms can sit in and let the wide attackers -- Santino Quaranta, Fred, Ivan Guerrero or whomever -- get forward. And United really shouldn't have too much of a problem when attacking midfielder Marcelo Gallardo is ready to start again. There are ample minutes to disperse, as D.C.'s schedule is overflowing with league matches, CONCACAF Champions League contests and this week's U.S. Open Cup final.

4. The deal with Kenny Cooper. There's a lot of teeth-gnashing over Kenny Cooper, with theories flying willy-nilly about why Bob Bradley won't give FC Dallas's 13-goal-scorer another chance.

Here's the deal: Cooper freelances a lot. He doesn't play the classic target man role that everyone expects from such a big frame. He tends to drift wide and not get into the penalty area as much as other strikers.

Every manager sees it. And they all feel the same way: They love Cooper for his attitude, training habits and work rate. They work with him on getting closer to the goal and checking to the ball more often. But they aren't silly. They see the production and essentially say "What are you gonna do? The guy scores." That's exactly how Schellas Hyndman sees it.

When Bradley gets to that point -- and it will happen sooner or later, perhaps after a scoreless draw at home or after a particularly poor showing from one of the currently favored strikers -- Cooper will be summoned. For now, Bradley prefers tighter team shape to the potential of increased production.

You may disagree with his choice, but that's the deal. It's that simple.

Cooper is just 23. He'll get his chances. Besides, Bradley can't keep calling Eddie Johnson forever.

5. Happy, shiny Donovan. I think we're seeing now how unhappy Landon Donovan had become under deposed Galaxy manager Ruud Gullit. Now Donovan, U.S. Soccer's most polarizing figure, is under a boss where "mutual respect" is no longer just a slogan. Sure enough, Donovan was bouncing all over Gillette Stadium on Saturday in the Galaxy's 2-2 draw. He struck for two terrific goals (a league-leading 16 now) and was active all over the field. He looks like a force again.

If we know anything about Donovan, it's that his performance is directly linked to his comfort in other areas of his life. He started 2008 with a flourish but faded somewhat -- about the time his and other players' relationships with Gullit were circling the drain.

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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