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Sep 15, 2008

Ten things to note from MLS Week 25

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

1. Mis-Firing. Let's quickly review the Chicago Fire goals from the past month. Don't worry, it won't take long -- just three to cover from the past five matches.

One came after a Houston Dynamo botched clearance. Another happened with Red Bull fullback Diego Jimenez's ridiculous clearance turned into an easy Fire tally. The third was well-taken by Chicago's John Thorrington, although the L.A. Galaxy back line was graciously compliant, bequeathing plenty of shooting space.

The point is, Chicago's attack stinks right now. No one seems to want to talk about it, but Cuauhtemoc Blanco is all but invisible these days. He isn't moving well off the ball, and the result is no goals and one assist since June 7 (and that one assist came courtesy of the Dynamo's bad moment).

Chicago will probably make the playoffs on the strength of the league's best defense. The two goals allowed Sunday to Colorado were due to Jon Busch's rare, bad day in goal. But in the postseason, the offense simply must be better, because what Denis Hamlett's club has right now won't get the Bridgeview bunch past Columbus or New England.

2. No longer on the Mapp. One issue in Chicago is Justin Mapp's continued underachievement. Mapp, 22, was in the national team picture just a few months ago. Now you could scratch up quite a list of versatile, young American attackers who have lapped Mapp, including Columbus' Robbie Rogers, D.C. United's Santino Quaranta, Houston's Stuart Holden and Brad Davis and Chicago's Thorrington.

3. Christian Gomez's butt must be sore. Colorado is 3-2 since interim manager Gary Smith benched playmaker Christian Gomez. What's good for the Rapids in the short term raises bigger-picture questions, such as whether they got snookered into accepting damaged goods.

Colorado isn't the only MLS club that may need to vet important roster choices a little more closely. In Kansas City, veterans Claudio Lopez, Carlos Marinelli and Kerry Zavagnin were all on the bench to start the 2-0 win over Los Angeles. That's a significant chunk of salary tethered to the sideline.

In Dallas, attitude issues recently kept Dax McCarty and Andre Rocha on the bench, although both did start in the weekend's 2-2 draw at RFK.

4. Houston's best in the back. Bobby Boswell's splendid season of redemption is flying a bit below the radar. The former MLS Defender of the Year, who fell out of D.C. United favor last year, kept things stable in Houston to begin the season while partnered with young Patrick Ianni. Now, Boswell is holding things together while Eddie Robinson struggles to gain his feet in a season of injury and performance frustration. (Robinson should have been ejected earlier Saturday against San Jose for a second yellow card offense. He caught a break, but only delayed getting himself tossed out.)

Don't you think United, struggling with Devon McTavish and Marc Burch paired centrally on Saturday, would love to have "Blogging Bobby" back at RFK now?

5. More props for Parkhurst. On the subject of center backs, so much gets made of Michael Parkhurst's defensive abilities in New England, his perfect positioning, his precision pace and balance in the challenge. And rightfully so. So it's easy to overlook Parkhurst's valuable distribution. His passing over distance is well-selected and executed with pinpoint accuracy.

6. Riding solo at BMO. Toronto's Carl Robinson is not a bad player; he does a pretty good job when partnered with another holding midfielder. But when he's isolated in a diamond-shaped midfield as a lone screening presence -- as he was Saturday, with Amado Guevara positioned in front -- Robinson just doesn't have the speed to cover enough ground. Indeed, that space in the middle, right in front of the defense, is precisely where Columbus' goal came from Saturday, as Pat Noonan had ample time and space to unleash an unopposed shot from 22 yards.

7. Ronnie O's breakthrough. Ronnie O'Brien, for all the industry, good service and two-way work, has always had trouble scoring. Which has always been odd considering his blistering shot. Somehow, O'Brien almost always ends up with a campaign full of near-misses. Only once in six previous MLS seasons (two were injury-abbreviated) did O'Brien top two goals. He has four so far this year, including Saturday's important stunner against Houston.

FYI: San Jose has a dandy chance at postseason soccer. Of all the teams battling for position in that Western Conference quagmire, the Earthquakes have the most favorable schedule. Once past this weekend's toughie at Houston, the only two road matches remaining are at Dallas and Kansas City, with a potential to take points from both. The trio of remaining home matches includes dates against Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and Toronto.

8. Not Beckham's best spot. David Beckham was stationed centrally for L.A. over the weekend. He definitely gives the Galaxy better passing and possession in that area. But he simply can't be the same kind of offensive presence; rather, Beckham ends up being more of a deep-lying distributor.

Ideally, the Galaxy would have somebody like that, someone to move the ball to Beckham, where the league's most expensive talent could create and do his thing from the right. But that's what you get with a roster as poorly assembled as the Galaxy's.

9. Tricky math. Most successful teams have a steady presence at holding midfielder. In Kansas City, Kerry Zavagnin, Kurt Morsink, Sasha Victorine and Jack Jewsbury have all played there in 2008.

If you have four starters at holding midfielder, you really don't have a starter at the spot -- if you know what I mean.

You could say something similar about Red Bull New York this year, although Juan Pietravallo's midsummer arrival has stabilized that spot a bit. The Red Bulls did miss Seth Stammler in the center of the park over the weekend; he's having a fine season at Giants Stadium.

10. Of end zones and shortened pitches. Here is yet another reason why MLS can't get out of these confounded, ill-fitting and poorly suited NFL stadiums fast enough. The American football teams don't like soccer teams treading on their fancy end-zone logos. So MLS pitches get reduced to about 105 yards in certain venues, which compresses play and creates uglier matches. Games in Kansas City and New England over the weekend were affected thusly. (Strangely, at Giants Stadiums, where officials have seldom done MLS any favors, they don't mind layering the soccer field on top of the logos.)

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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