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Monday, April 28, 2008
Ten things to note from Week 5

Steve Davis

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

1. Rare is the 25-goal season in MLS; just two players have managed one, and both occurred back in relative league infancy.

Even 20-goal seasons are infrequent. Eight players have reached that milepost, including Luciano Emilio last year when he landed right on the number. Roy Lassiter owns the all-time record with 27 goals in 1996.

Landon Donovan is surely on his way to a 20-goal doozy, at least. With eight strikes in five matches and nearly a full season's worth of service from David Beckham ahead, the American attacker is on the verge of something special. Lassiter's mark may be in range.

Even if Donovan misses some time for Olympic duty (the next LD debate begins in 3, 2, 1 … ), he has ample time to reach the big "two-oh," especially considering the current trend: Galaxy games will probably continue to be scoring free-for-alls.

Accomplished as Donovan is already, a 20-goal collection would represent a major milepost. His previous season high is 12.

2. MLS games so far not involving the Galaxy are averaging 2.7 goals. Games with the Galaxy are averaging 4.4. Draw your own conclusions.

3. Chivas USA's tale of 2007 was a worthy one, replete with elements of revival and redemption (redemption from that fatally flawed, heavy-Mex launch strategy). Chivas USA, hard-trying, budget-minded and relatively star-free, provided the counterweight to the Little Galacticos, whose ridiculous soap opera circled the drain in the other HDC locker room.

But perhaps one little matter was underplayed in 2007: Big Brad Guzan frequently saved the Goat bacon. His campaign was superhero-esque, and he often made an average team appear better than it was.

Everyone should consider all that while dissecting the contagion that seems to be endangering Preki Valley. Guzan, who very nearly became Aston Villa property in January, has shed his cape. He was at fault for two goals in a loss at Columbus. And on Saturday he clearly misdiagnosed the danger on what became L.A.'s game winner in a 5-2 win for the Galaxy.

Chivas, a loser just once last year on Victoria Street, has already lost two there in 2008. Guzan's precipitous drop in form has exposed a vulnerable defense, and it's hard to imagine that the transfer disappointment isn't part of Guzan's problem.

4. Toronto midfielder Maurice Edu frequently looks like a different player at the international level, always finding a little something extra in his bag. Now, as TFC is trending upward, it's interesting to watch a more confident Edu at MLS level, too. With a better team around him, Edu seems freer to express himself.

5. Credit Houston Chronicle writer Bernardo Fallas for noting this little gem of irony last weekend at Crew Stadium, where Guillermo Barros Schelotto's team met Franco Caraccio's team and came away with a 1-0 win over Houston.

Schelotto, of course, was once a Boca Juniors institution. In Schelotto's heyday there, Caraccio lived nearby and was a young, fawning Boca Juniors fan. Now Schelotto is a lion in winter, extending his storied career at Columbus. As Caraccio watched Schelotto all those years, how could he have possibly known he would meet his hero on the field one day -- but in Columbus, Ohio, of all places?

6. An initiative isn't really an initiative because you say so. You need a little of that "fierce urgency of now" thing.

MLS is endeavoring to keep games moving, to squeeze out some of the time-wasting shenanigans. And it's true that referees are less lenient on goalkeepers who dillydally on goal kicks. That's a start.

But why wait until a game's dying minutes to get assertive? Too many players still delay restarts with impunity. That eliminates the quickly taken free kick, which subtracts one element of offense and makes for (yawn) a less interesting game.

Every weekend we watch players pick up balls, carry them a few steps and then toss them away. Or they kick away balls without as much as no-no finger from the man in the middle. Saturday, we even saw Houston's Brian Mullan pick up an extra ball from beyond the sideline and toss it onto the field, providing a little extra time to retreat. At least he's creative about it.

7. We're hearing more about Columbus attendance woes this year; the Crew has averaged 11,949 so far. But is the actual number of butts in seats really down, or has the reporting methodology been adjusted? (That is, are Crew officials more accurate in their accounting?) Because attendance has looked sparse for some time.

8. RSL's list of forwards seemed to be an improved lot, but the numbers aren't supporting that claim. Kenny Deuchar, Fabian Espindola, Robbie Findley and Yura Movsisyan have a combined three goals in five matches. Kyle Beckerman, RSL's industrious midfielder, has two by himself.

Movsisyan, by the way, needs to get his head up and pass a little more in the final third. He continues to squander opportunities to be a team player, which explains his jaw-dropping total of zero assists in 37 career MLS matches.

9. Dominic Kinnear still has a dangerous midfield and adequate defense in Houston. Most of the Dynamo's delicate condition is about strikers not striking. Houston has been shut out three times in five games.

Caraccio is young, and who knows whether he'll pan out. Brian Ching? His goals have always come in bunches. He struck for 12 in 2006, with seven in the opening six matches. Last year, five of seven goals came during a one-month stretch.

The flip side of a guy who strikes in bunches is a guy prone to long stretches of zilch. And there you have it. Going back to 2007, Ching has one goal in 13 regular-season matches.

10. Funny how things come around.

D.C. United manager Tom Soehn reconfigured his side Saturday into a 3-5-2 and emerged with fine results. Last year at this time, United helped arrest its spiral by switching … wait for it … out of the 3-5-2 and into a 4-4-2.

Soehn made the move this year, in part, to get Marcelo Gallardo higher, hoping to showcase his serious finishing skills. Well, mission accomplished. Gallardo's highlight volley late Saturday in a 4-1 win against Real Salt Lake was tremendously taken.

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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