The mad, mad world of MLS

June, 5, 2009

What a crazy league this is! Last weekend saw another round of matches that left fans scratching their heads over a number of topics.

First, how do you explain the Chicago Fire winning at the side with the league's best record, and then three days later, losing to the team with the worst record? The clue is in the question, of course. Seventy-two hours is not much time for a team to recover sufficiently. If several of those are spent traveling across time zones, the process becomes still more debilitating.

The result of the quick turnaround was a Fire side that made such a strong statement at Chivas USA -- albeit with the help of referee Terry Vaughn -- had little heat left for FC Dallas, whose own quest for victory was further assisted by the absence of Cuauhtemoc Blanco from the home side's lineup. The Hoops played well, but there is no doubt that the schedule did them a favor in this instance.

Elsewhere, another chapter was penned in the dominant story line of the season, as referees once again had a weekend to forget. I'll get to the number of cards that were dished out in a moment, but first, let's talk penalties. Of the six penalties awarded, at least four were laughers. Chicago was fortunate to get one, let alone two, at Chivas while the one New England gained from was arguably even worse. New York's penalty against Colorado was soft, too.

It seems that every time there is a coming-together in a penalty area, the result is a shout for a penalty. You can't blame players for asking, especially because so many penalties are being awarded, but there has to be some sort of reassessment of what is and what is not a spot-kick.

If a penalty is going to be given for a miniscule shirt tug, like the one on Wilman Conde or the bump Taylor Twellman took from Brian Namoff, we might as well put hoops on the field instead of goals, and give everyone the luxury of committing up to six fouls.

Forty-eight yellow cards is another cause for concern and a further indication of the present struggles of referees to do anything other than take names to establish and maintain control. The fact that 11 of those 48 were issued for dissent is a further sign of the growing lack of respect players have for match officials. Given some of the decisions we have seen recently, it's hardly surprising.

Size matters

It was a good weekend for many of MLS' "big" offensive players.

Leading the way was Conor Casey (6-foot-1, 170 pounds), whose stock as arguably the league's premier line-leader continues to grow. The Colorado man gave New York's back line fits to the extent that it contrived to allow him to net two goals from a combined distance of, roughly, 8 yards. Casey deservedly won the player of the month award in May, and should start the all-star game based on his current form.

Meanwhile, given that everything is bigger in Texas, it was perhaps not surprising to see Kenny Cooper (6-3, 207) and Kei Kamara (6-3, 186) excel for Dallas and Houston, respectively. Cooper has long been known for having a decent touch for one so large and his free-kick strike against Chicago was further evidence of that.

Kamara, meanwhile, is one of the quiet success stories of the past month, when he has responded admirably to the threat of shared playing time with the addition of, Ade Akinbyi. Since the veteran forward joined the Dynamo, Kamara has scored three goals in four games -- all of which Houston has won  after starting the season with four barren outings.

In New England, much of the weekend's attention was on the return of Taylor Twellman, as well as the latest questionable penalty decision by a referee. Beyond those talking points was another colossal display by the Revolution's main man, Shalrie Joseph (6-3, 180). Twellman's introduction may have allowed the Grenadian to revert to his regular role in midfield, but Joseph maintained an offensive outlook, heading in his fourth goal of the season to draw Steve Nicol's side level.

Other physically imposing forwards to find the net were Nate Jaqua (6-3, 180), whose form with the Seattle Sounders FC has been admirably consistent, and Edson Buddle (6-1, 185), a player the Galaxy desperately needs to get and stay fit, especially given the penchant Alan Gordon (6-3, 190 -- hey, I didn't say all of the tall guys excelled!) has developed for missing gilt-edged chances.

So, what explains the success of the big men? First and foremost, service was the key. Having berated the standard of crossing and set-piece delivery in recent weeks, it's only fair that I compliment some of the crosses we saw last weekend. With the exception of Cooper's dead-ball effort, all of the above benefited from having the right ball played at the right time.

Furthermore, though this trend is not restricted to the big men, it was noticeable from the box scores how many forward pairings linked up on goals. One of Casey's was assisted by Omar Cummings, while Brian Ching played a part in Kamara's strike. Unsurprisingly, Landon Donovan was the key to Buddle pulling the Galaxy level.

Well played, forgotten man

I'll give a nod to the continued good form of Brad Davis, who excelled against Toronto FC with a goal and an assist to take his season's tally in those categories to two and seven, respectively. The 27-year-old has set-up a goal in each of Houston's last six games, which is a franchise record and two short of the league's mark.

Davis has impressed me for a number of years, and he played instrumental roles in each of the Dynamo's MLS Cup wins. His ability to play centrally as well as out wide was showcased on both occasions, and that versatility continues to serve him well as he stuffs the stats sheet during Houston's resurgence.

Perhaps Davis is worth another look from the national team. Bob Bradley is not exactly overrun with creative, left-footed players, after all. Davis made his mark with the winning penalty in the 2005 Gold Cup final shootout, and this year's tournament appears to offer him another opportunity to make an impact in U.S. colors.

A thing that made me go hmmm

When will D.C. United coach Tom Soehn make a decision about his first-choice goalkeeper? Through 12 games, three men -- Louis Crayton (6), Josh Wicks (4) and Milos Kocic (2) -- have taken turns minding the net, and it is fair to say the results have been mixed. D.C. has shut out just two opponents and has an overall goals against average of 1.42.

Perhaps that is the problem. Simply, none of the three has shown sufficient ability to claim the starting job. Crayton appears to be the best option, but his tendency to go walkabout has burned him the past. Wicks was an accident waiting to happen last year in L.A., and while he has improved, it still appears that most of the saves he makes occur when he is recovering from being out of position. Kocic, meanwhile, has shown an affliction to crosses.

Though each has his flaws, the time is now for Soehn to pick and stick with one of his keepers. Defenders like the familiarity of having the same man behind them, and an extended run in the side would immediately boost the confidence of whoever wins the job. The knock-on effect would be to push D.C. to new levels and possibly challenge for the Eastern Conference title.



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