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Aug 3, 2009

SuperLiga provides valuable experience for MLS players

To be honest, the whole idea behind SuperLiga is a bit contrived.

The idea that top Mexican teams play MLS sides -- all of whom are in cities with dense Mexican populations -- just reeks of marketing. Played in the month before the Mexican season begins during a time when many MLS teams are suffering from international call, it comes across as a gimmick. Pure and simple, a way to put fannies in the seats. But, there's more to it than that.

Beyond the ka-ching of the cash register and the buzz of horns from the Chivas and Club America fans who turn out en masse for these games, SuperLiga is developing the depth of the national team. Despite the fact that fans of most MLS teams view it as nothing more than a glorified series of exhibitions, the third-year tournament is exposing teams and players to different styles of play and caliber of players. This helps when these players take the field for the national team and head coach Bob Bradley.

"I think that when you are placed in those tournaments and those types of environments, it is good for you as a player," said Kansas City Wizards forward Davy Arnaud, who recently was a part of the Gold Cup roster and scored a goal in the tournament. "Going against those players and teams, it helps you because it exposes you to different styles of play and tempo. In January, we [the Wizards] traveled to Mexico for preseason training. That was great for us too."

The fact that the United States, featuring a young and inexperienced squad at the Gold Cup, still managed to advance to Giants Stadium for the tournament's final is due not only to the experience many of those players have in MLS, but playing in international tournaments. The style of play in both the CONCACAF Champions League and the SuperLiga closely mirrors the rhythm and pace that the United States sees in World Cup qualifiers.

"You do feel comfortable when you play in games like the Gold Cup," said former FC Dallas striker Kenny Cooper about playing club teams from Mexico in friendlies and competition. "Knowing how teams from Mexico play by going against them in other games can only help you when you play for the national team."

In short, the experience derived from SuperLiga is as valuable to the players as it is to the league's bottom line. While it lacks history and tradition, SuperLiga and tournaments like it expose MLS players and young Americans to a wide variety of play, styles and caliber of talent. This can only help develop the overall ability of the national team.

"It is always a good thing when you can step on the field and test yourself against other competition," said Arnaud. "You learn things from all these games that help you in games like the Gold Cup and it's that knowledge that can be really important in game situations."

MLS Primetime
Wednesday
Seattle vs. Barcelona
Qwest Field, Seattle
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360.com

Quote of the week

"It was everything we hoped for, everything we wanted."

-- FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman following his team's 6-0 victory over Kansas City on Saturday night.

Stat of the week:

In the aforementioned 6-0 win over Kansas City, Jeff Cunningham scored on all four of his shots on goal in the game. After the game, Cunningham said, "It was one of those games that every striker dreams of. It seemed as if everything I did went well." A bit of an understatement perhaps ...

Stat of the week II:

The Eastern Conference might once again be deeper and stronger than its Western foes, but don't tell that to its goalkeepers. Through this weekend, the Western Conference has four of the top five goalkeepers in the league in goals-against average. Among this group, Houston's Pat Onstad, Seattle's Kasey Keller and Chivas USA's Zach Thornton are all allowing in less than one goal a game. Last year, not one goalkeeper finished below the one-goal-a-game mark.

Quick kicks:

• Coach Denis Hamlett rested two of the Fire's representatives to the All-Star Game, William Conde and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, on Saturday night as the Fire play Tigres in the SuperLiga final on Wednesday. Even without these two, Chicago beat Salt Lake 1-0.

• After regulation netted a 1-1 tie against Everton on Wednesday night, the MLS all-stars dropped the annual midsummer matchup 4-3 on penalty kicks. It was the first time in the history of the all-star game that an MLS side lost to a foreign club. 2003 marked the first time that the MLS all-stars played a foreign side, beating Mexico's Chivas 3-1.

• After scoring four goals in the before-mentioned rout of Kansas City , FC Dallas' Jeff Cunningham moved into second place all-time in the league's scoring list with 112. No word on if Cunningham will start to play defense should he ever become the league's all-time scorer.

• San Jose scored almost a quarter of its 25 goals on the season, 24 percent to be precise, in its last 135 minutes of league play. The Earthquakes scored two goals in the second half against D.C. United last week to earn a 2-2 tie and had a 4-0 win over Seattle this past weekend.

• Think San Jose's goal-scoring woes are bad? It is a shocking number, but compare that with the Red Bulls, who scored exactly one-fourth of their league-low 16 goals in a 4-1 win over San Jose on May 8. The Red Bulls are averaging less than a goal game on the season and have not scored two goals in a game since a 3-2 home loss to Colorado in late May.

Kristian R. Dyer is a freelance writer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the associate editor of Blitz magazine and also writes for the New York City daily paper Metro. He can be reached at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com.

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