CARSON -- Attention this week turns to CONCACAF's qualifiers for this summer's Olympics, with Group A -- featuring the U.S. -- opening Thursday in Nashville, and Group B starting Friday at Home Depot Center.
The local games include Mexico and Honduras, which figure to battle the U.S. for the region's two berths in England. Plenty of Major League Soccer players will take part, including Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens and Chivas USA left back Jorge Villafaņa, who are on Caleb Porter's U.S. roster.
In all, some 24 players on MLS books and one more whose rights are held by an MLS club, are set for the tournament, which wraps up in Kansas City, Kan., with the March 31 semifinals determining the London-bound teams and the title game on April 2.
Fourteen on the U.S.'s 20-man roster are from the league, and six more (plus one) play for Canada, which will battle the U.S. in Group A. Honduras and fellow Group B sides Panama and Trinidad & Tobago also draw from MLS.
Here is the list of MLS players:
United States: Goalkeepers Bill Hamid (D.C. United ) and Sean Johnson (Chicago), defenders Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Ike Opara (San Jose), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston), Zarek Valentin (Montreal), Jorge Villafaņa (Chivas USA) and Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia), midfielders Freddy Adu (Philadelphia), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia) and Michael Stephens (Galaxy), and forwards Juan Agudelo (New York), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City) and Brek Shea (FC Dallas).
Canada: Defenders Nana Attakora (rights held by San Jose), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC) and Matt Stinson (Toronto FC), midfielders Russell Teibert (Vancouver), Bryce Alderson (Vancouver) and Evan James (Montreal), and forward Babayele Sodade (Seattle).
Honduras: Midfielder Andy Najar (D.C. United).
Panama: Defender Carlos Rodriguez (FC Dallas).
Trinidad & Tobago: Midfielder Kevan George (Columbus) and forward Cordell Cato (Seattle).
Here are this week's power rankings:
1. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (1-0-0, 3 points), Last Week: 1
Last week: First-leg win in the CONCACAF Champions League counts for nothing after Mexico's Santos Laguna romps, 6-1, in the quarterfinal second leg; UCLA product David Estrada wins MLS Player of the Week honors after his hat trick beats Toronto FC, 3-1.
We say: Sprained knee puts Mauro Rosales out for “a couple of weeks … could be a little more,” Sigi Schmid says.
Pivotal player: At least three: forward Fredy Montero and midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Mauro Rosales.
Next: Friday vs. Houston, 7 p.m. (NBC Sports).
2. REAL SALT LAKE (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 2
Last week: Fabian Espindola and Garden Grove's Luis Gil tally as RSL tops early Supporters' Shield standings following 2-0 win over New York.
We say: Espindola's next goal, his 29th, will tie Robbie Findley's club record.
Pivotal player: Playmaker Javier Morales makes things flow.
Next: Saturday vs. Chivas USA, 6 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22).
3. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 4
Last week: Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi each contribute a goal and assist in 3-0 rout of New England.
We say: Sporting up for Sports Team of the Year, Livestrong Sporting Park a finalist for Sports Facility of the Year in Sports Business Awards.
Pivotal player: It's increasingly becoming Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong.
Next: Sunday vs. FC Dallas, 4 p.m. (Galavision).
4. GALAXY (1-1-0, 3 points), LW: 3
Last week: Defensive breakdowns lead to an exit from the Champions League following a 2-1 loss to Toronto FC; Robbie Keane strikes twice in 3-1 romp over D.C. United
We say: The only group winner not to advance in CONCACAF's Champions League? That's right.
Pivotal player: There are two: David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Next: March 31 vs. New England, 8 p.m. (NBC Sports).
5. HOUSTON DYNAMO (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 6
Last week: Dynamo post second 1-0 decision after Brad Davis converts early penalty kick against San Jose in San Francisco.
We say: Police officer's lawsuit against the club and four players, following a early-February nightclub incident, is untimely headache for the Dynamo.
Pivotal player: Brad Davis is MLS's best winger, since Beckham plays in the middle.
Next: Friday at Seattle, 7 p.m. (NBC Sports).
6. FC DALLAS (1-0-1, 4 points), LW: 5
Last week: Blas Perez provides first-half lead, but Hoops can't hold on in 1-1 draw with Portland.
We say: David Ferreira's injury, a bone bruise, likely keeps him out again.
Pivotal player: Ferreira, the 2010 MVP. With winger Brek Shea close behind.
Next: Sunday at Sporting Kansas City, 4 p.m. (Galavision).
7. COLORADO RAPIDS (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 9
Last week: Jaime Castrillon and Tony Cascio tally as Rapids survive Jeff Larentowicz red card in 2-1 win at Philadelphia.
We say: Conor Casey returns to practice for the first time since tearing his Achilles' tendon last July.
Pivotal player: Colombian midfielder Castillon's influence rising over balanced group.
Next: Sunday at New York, 1 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes).
8. PORTLAND TIMBERS (1-0-1, 4 points), LW: 8
Last week: Darlington Nagbe gives Log-sawers a share of the points with 1-1 draw at FC Dallas.
We say: Owner Merritt Paulson says he wouldn't trade Timbers' urban locale for a better suburban stadium “for all the tea in China.”
Pivotal player: Kris Boyd's finishing rate will determine how Timbers do.
Next: Saturday at New England, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
9. TORONTO FC (0-1-0, 0 points), LW: 10
Last week: Ryan Johnson and Nick Soolsma team up to beat the Galaxy, 2-1, in decisive Champions League clash; Johnson nets his third of the year as TFC drops MLS opener, 3-1, at Seattle.
We say: Hamstring strain will sideline Torsten Frings four to six weeks, including the Champions League semifinals.
Pivotal player: Frings runs the show, whether in the back or in midfield.
Next: Saturday vs. San Jose, 10 a.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, March 28, in a Champions League semifinal first leg vs. Mexico's Santos Laguna, 5 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel).
10. NEW YORK RED BULLS (0-2-0, 0 points), LW: 7
Last week: Red Bulls can't hang with RSL in 2-0 loss.
We say: New York wants Irish midfielder Stephen Ireland rather than aging German star Michael Ballack. Ballack's agent calls Red Bulls sporting director Erik Soler “clueless.”
Pivotal player: Thierry Henry can take the Bulls to the top.
Next: Sunday vs. Colorado, 1 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes).
11. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 17
Last week: Jay DeMerit header overcomes Chivas USA dominance in 1-0 victory.
We say: Darren Mattocks, MLS's No. 2 overall draft pick, heads to the hospital after burning his arm and shoulder in a cooking accident.
Pivotal player: Sebastien Le Toux sets the tone, as he did in Philly.
Next: Saturday vs. D.C. United, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
12. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (1-1-0, 3 points), LW: 14
Last week: Early penalty, with Jon Busch leaping into Brian Ching, is costly in 1-0 loss to Houston in San Francisco.
We say: Former Galaxy/Chivas striker Alan Gordon returns to training after working out at Home Depot Center.
Pivotal player: Nobody's scored more goals in MLS the past two years than Chris Wondolowski.
Next: Saturday at Toronto FC, 10 a.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
13. CHICAGO FIRE (0-0-1, 1 points), LW: 11
Last week: Dominic Oduro goal claims a point in opener at Montreal.
We say: Owner Andrew Hauptman says Fire would “sign a striker at the price of Robbie Keane. … Would we have [signed Keane]? I’m not entirely sure.”
Pivotal player: It'll be Arne Friedrich, who just trained with the Fire for the first time.
Next: Saturday vs. Philadelphia, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
14. PHILADELPHIA UNION (0-2-0, 0 points), LW: 13
Last week: Lionard Pajoy's first MLS goal not enough in 2-1 loss to Colorado.
We say: Peter Nowak leaves Danny Califf out of his lineup because of a knee injury. Califf then reports his knee is fine, that he doesn't know what's going on.
Pivotal player: It ought to be Danny Mwanga, but Califf's leadership will be key for so young a group.
Next: Saturday at Chicago, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
15. CHIVAS USA (0-2-0, 0 points), LW: 15
Last week: Outstanding defense, no attack in 1-0 loss to visiting Vancouver.
We say: Juan Pablo Angel's concussion issues arrive at the worst possible time.
Pivotal player: Angel seems the obvious choice, but we'll go with Nick LaBrocca -- and watch out for Miller Bolaņos.
Next: Saturday at Real Salt Lake, 6 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22).
16. COLUMBUS CREW (0-1-0, 0 points), LW: 16
Last week: Idle.
We say: Olman Vargas misses Costa Rica call-up because his passport's at the Canadian embassy in advance of this weekend Quebec trek.
Pivotal player: Much expected from Milovan Milosevic, but Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renteria are key right now.
Next: Saturday vs. Montreal, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
17. D.C. UNITED (0-2-0, 0 points), LW: 12
Last week: D.C. shows little life, Nick DeLeon's fine goal aside, in 3-1 loss to the Galaxy.
We say: Indonesian media magnate Erick Thohir, who has a stake in the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, said to be interested in a piece of the club.
Pivotal player: Dwayne De Rosario is MLS's reigning MVP for a reason.
Next: Saturday at Vancouver, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
18. MONTREAL IMPACT (0-1-1, 1 points), LW: 19
Last week: Davy Arnaud provides a lead that doesn't last in 1-1 draw with Chicago in newest MLS club's home debut.
We say: 58,912 at Olympic Stadium breaks Montreal's soccer attendance record, just misses 29-year-old Canadian mark, 60,342, set by old Vancouver Whitecaps.
Pivotal player: Former K.C. captain Arnaud will provide needed leadership.
Next: Saturday at Columbus, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
19. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (0-2-0, 0 points), LW: 18
Last week: Hapless Revs dominated, 3-0, at Sporting Kansas City.
We say: Swedish forward Bjorn Runstrom turns down contract offers -- twice. http://nesoccertoday.com/?p=10398
Pivotal player: Shalrie Joseph remains the man in the middle.
Next: Saturday vs. Portland, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).