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Apr 19, 2010

Buddle's strong play deserves look from Bradley

Edson Buddle is knocking on Bob Bradley's door. Will the U.S. manager let him in? After Buddle scored twice in the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2-1 defeat of Real Salt Lake on Saturday, taking his season tally to seven goals, it seems inconceivable that Bradley wouldn't at least give the one-time U.S. international a look when the team convenes for pre-World Cup training in May. It's not just the numbers that speak well of Buddle. The L.A. striker has been finding the net in all manner of ways, and his game-winning tally in the 76th minute, one in which he buried a half-volley past RSL keeper Nick Rimando, reveals a forward whose confidence level has long since exceeded the red line. Buddle has also been making huge contributions in terms of his hold-up play and the physical presence he has provided up top. Sounds like just the kind of player Bradley could use, right? No doubt, there are those who will dismiss Buddle's streak as nothing more than a journeyman striker feasting on substandard opposition. True, the World Cup is a different beast entirely. But given the inconsistent form shown by some of the other candidates, not to mention the injuries that the current crop of U.S. forwards has endured in recent months, naming Buddle to the initial roster and then seeing how he performs in training camp seems like the kind of low-risk/high-reward move that could pay immense dividends down the line. (Ditto for Puebla striker Herculez Gomez, but as he plies his trade south of the border, that's a topic for another day.) Bradley has made a habit of leaving no player untested during his tenure. It only seems prudent to continue that trend until the very end. This week, the Red Bulls enjoyed Bouna time: After a week that witnessed an epidemic of goalkeeping errors, plenty of eyes remained fixed on those netminders to see how they would bounce back in Week 4. While some shot-stoppers remained mired in deep slumps (Philadelphia's Chris Seitz, D.C. United's Troy Perkins), New York goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul won the Boomerang Award for his stellar performance against FC Dallas. Coundoul stymied FCD so often in the second half it was as if the Dallas players had their hands super-glued to their foreheads. Coundoul's save from FCD midfielder David Ferreira, one in which he parried the Colombian's effort off the post in the 56th minute, was the pick of the bunch, and it proved even more critical when New York striker Juan Pablo Angel equalized just a minute later. But Coundoul didn't stop there, twice thwarting Jeff Cunningham from point-blank range, and then deflecting Eric Avila's shot wide late in the match. That New York went on to win the match 2-1 courtesy of Angel's late penalty meant that this case of highway robbery had Coundoul's fingerprints all over it. De Guzman's gaffe: There's no way to sugarcoat what transpired late in Sunday's tilt between Colorado and Toronto, one that ended with the Rapids prevailing 3-1. TFC midfielder Julian de Guzman, he of the Designated Player salary, performed a feat of matador defense that is sure to land him a lengthy stay in the doghouse of head coach Preki, as well as a contract offer from the Golden State Warriors. It's too soon to tell just which of these scenarios is worse. With just minutes remaining, Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei appeared satisfied that the four-man wall he constructed would be sufficient to repel Jeff Larentowicz's upcoming free kick. What Frei didn't count on was de Guzman jumping to his left, allowing Larentowicz's rather pedestrian attempt to sail right through the spot that was just vacated, and inside his right-hand post for the game-winner. The Canadian international has come under fire for not doing enough to dominate games since arriving in MLS last season. Whether this is more a function of de Guzman himself, or the pieces around him, is open for debate. But clearly this case of brain-lock wouldn't be expected from a Sunday league performer, never mind a Designated Player. Simply put, de Guzman must do better. Rico who? For Houston manager Dominic Kinnear, finding a clone for the departed Ricardo Clark was near the top of his offseason to-do list. Based on Lovel Palmer's performance in a 3-0 skunking of Chivas USA on Saturday, it looks like Kinnear can scratch that task from his list. Without question, Palmer's 35-yard blast for Houston's second goal was a jaw-dropper. But of greater importance to the Dynamo were the other contributions the Jamaican made. While Palmer doesn't quite have Clark's range, he still covered plenty of ground, and was tidy in possession. The fact that he's just 25 gives an injection of youth into a Dynamo side that has been criticized for being too long-in-the-tooth. Granted, Palmer's performance came against a Chivas side that has struggled to find any semblance of form. But his nascent partnership with Geoff Cameron in the center of Houston's midfield should allow the Dynamo to remain competitive, and survive the departures of Clark and Stuart Holden. Vermes, Wizards on right track: It's not often that a team's playoff stock actually goes up after a loss, but that was precisely the case for the Kansas City Wizards, even as they fell 1-0 to Seattle last Saturday. After two wins at home, it was always going to be interesting to see how Kansas City fared in a tough road environment like Seattle. But aside from a late lapse in concentration, the Wizards were every bit the Sounders' equal. Of course, the failure to track Seattle substitute Michael Fucito on a late throw-in proved critical, as the Sounders midfielder found enough time and space to lash home the game-winner in stoppage time. But Peter Vermes has put together a side with a nice balance between attack and defense. The midfield triumvirate of Stephane Auvray, Jack Jewsbury and Davy Arnaud is capable of contributing on both sides of the ball, and Ryan Smith gives the team a consistently dangerous presence on the left flank. Like they always do, injuries will play a part in Kansas City's bid to return to the playoffs. Already the team looks set to be without defender Jimmy Conrad for a spell after he was forced to leave the match in the first half with an unspecified leg injury. But so far Vermes has proved adept at filling any gaps on the roster, and given the impressive way the Wizards have started the season, they look set to do some damage in the Eastern Conference.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He also writes for Centerlinesoccer.com and can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

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