Steve Davis
Monday April 19th, 2010

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 4:

1. The unstoppable Edson Buddle: Most of us have seen enough. Most of us believe Edson Buddle deserves a chance with a national team that is starving for more striking punch.

Of course, most of us aren't making the decisions. That job belongs to Bob Bradley. We'll find out in a few weeks whether the scorching hot Galaxy forward truly has done enough.

The raw numbers scream for his inclusion. With another pair of goals for the Galaxy in a 2-1 win over RSL, Buddle has now scored seven times in four MLS matches as L.A. has gathered all 12 points. This is no Lucky Louie moment, either. These are confident strikes in a variety of spots. He's scoring with his head and feet, from in close and beyond the 18.

Here's why it makes sense for Bradley: The U.S. national team boss puts tremendous emphasis on creating a predictable environment. Almost four years of work has built toward the May training camp, and it's all been about subtracting any element of mystery in terms of practices, roles and expectations. It's also about creating familiarity in personnel, but only to a point.

Buddle hasn't played at the international level since 2003. So, yes, there is some risk to introducing a new ingredient to the soup.

On the other hand, we're not talking about introducing half a dozen new elements. The reward for creating stability and predictability is that one man can do little to disrupt the environment. (This is not to suggest that Buddle would be a locker room detriment in any way; there is zero evidence of such a thing.)

Any time you have a strong locker room, the onus is on the new guy to fit in. If he's not on board, then he is the outsider. Some guys wouldn't be worth the risk, small as it may be. But Buddle's sensational form makes it worth the stretch. His goals over the weekend against Real Salt Lake -- in a spirited rematch of last year's MLS Championship -- should be enough to cinch this deal. The Galaxy has three or perhaps four matches before Bradley calls in 26-28 players for the pre-World Cup camp.

2. A wealth of fine, young MLS center backs: Here's another irony in MLS as it relates to the national team: the United States is thin at center back right now due largely to uncertainty over Oguchi Onyewu's status.

Major League Soccer is chalk full of strapping young bucks at this spot. It goes well beyond Omar Gonzalez, the Galaxy center back who already is having a standup sophomore season at the Home Depot Center.

Red Bull revelation Tim Ream has Rookie of the Year written all over him, although he and Mike Petke were occasionally troubled Saturday dealing with Dallas' peppy attack. Speaking of Dallas, U.S. U-20 captain Kyle Davies had a starting spot until a broken arm recently derailed his progress. FC Dallas central partner George John, 23, has a future in the league, too.

Earthquakes rookie Ike Opara seems to improve with each start at San Jose (and also has two goals for Frank Yallop's side.) Central partner Jason Hernandez has some upside, although he looks like more of a project, someone who could benefit from playing alongside a wise old hand at the spot. Even Brandon McDonald could return to center back one day for San Jose, although he's a holding midfielder at the moment at Buck Shaw.

Chad Marshall finally got back on the field last week for Columbus. Geoff Cameron may yet return to center back in Houston; he thrived there last year, although he is now stationed at attacking midfielder for Houston. And Darrius Barnes is back for his second campaign at New England following last year's promising rookie season.

3. The Coundoul conundrum: Is there a more mercurial talent in MLS than Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul? One week, this guy is doing everything except picking 'em up and chucking 'em into his own goal. However, last week's howler against Chivas USA was classic Coundoul, an own goal straight out of something you'd see in the U-12 youth leagues.

This week, Red Bull owes three points to the man. He made three brilliant saves and was otherwise rock-steady, keeping Dallas at bay until Juan Pablo Angel connected on his second penalty-kick attempt of the night. TV announcers sometimes breathlessly bark about the "unbelievable" save when all a goalkeeper did was throw up his hands or have a ball bounce off his shoulder. In this case, Coundoul really did summon tremendous instinct and athletic ability, particularly in the second half. (Although this must also be said: Dallas forward Jeff Cunningham is surely playing his way out of contention for a World Cup spot with an alarming inability to finish.)

4. Julian de Guzman could be a very expensive mistake: It's still a little early to call Toronto's designated player a bust, but you can go ahead and fill in the "B" and the "U."

Canadian international De Guzman has proven himself to be a good player in the past while performing in Spain. So he's earned some benefit of doubt. And he deserves some time working with coach Preki in the TFC rotation, where individuals are coming and going like shift change at the auto plant.

Further, it doesn't help when Preki overthinks things, like last Thursday against Philadelphia at BMO when his team was out of sorts due to new formations and roles. So De Guzman may yet work out. Still, De Guzman is having trouble completing the simplest of passes right now. For the seven-figure salary he's collecting he should be able to move a ball along to the next man, at the very least.

Then we had his stunt Sunday in Colorado, which about says it all. De Guzman, back in a more familiar role of distributor and deep-lying playmaker, was finally finding his feet. He struggled mightily in the first half, again missing too many simple connections. However, he was managing himself a bit better after the break and even helped his tired side turn up an equalizer against the run of play. Toronto was minutes away from stealing a point at nearly-empty DSG Park when De Guzman leapt out off the free-kick wall like someone had set his shorts on fire. Jeff Larentowicz hammered his free kick right through the vacated gap for the Rapids' game-winner.

I would be tempted to say that De Guzman leaping desperately out of the way and singlehandedly dismantling the wall represented the silliest thing I saw this weekend. On the other hand, I watched the exact same thing happen in the Roma-Lazio derby, so I guess it's some sort of odd global pandemic.

Anyway, on our side of the pond, De Guzman and TFC need to get it sorted out, or this will be technical director Mo Johnston's most expensive mistake. And that's saying a lot.

5. Five quickies, plus the Team of the Week:

• Most ridiculous and revealing MLS statistic after four weeks: winless D.C. United has just 15 shots on goal -- and 13 yellow cards.

• Two rookies you may not know ... yet: San Jose's Steve Beitashour had a nice match at right back in the win over New England. And FC Dallas' Zach Loyd was having a good night at right back at Red Bull Arena until he conceded a penalty kick.

• The TV line of the week is from Seattle announcer Arlo White (on K.C. forward Kei Kamara, who was slowly heading to the bench as his team milked the clock hoping for a tie): "And Kei Kamara is almost in reverse as he leaves the field!"

• Most intriguing idea of the week: Chicago Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos brought Brian McBride off the bench. McBride plays the same role as Collins John, anyway, so the mix may not be right with both on the field. That certainly is a ton of experience to introduce into a match. The former U.S. international hit for a goal and assist, so it worked like a charm.

• Three notable position changes from the weekend: Mac Kandji was along the left in the Red Bull midfield; U.S. international Heath Pearce played left midfield for Dallas, and; former forward Bryan Jordan entered as a sub for L.A. at right back. We'll see which ones stick.

Team of the Week: Goalkeeper: Bouna Coundoul (Red Bull New York); Defenders: Steve Beitashour (San Jose), Wilman Conde (Chicago), Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle), Roy Miller (Red Bull New York). Midfielders: Stephane Auvray (Kansas City), Chris Birchall (Los Angeles), Lovel Palmer (Houston). Forwards: Edson Buddle (Los Angeles), Brian McBride (Chicago).

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.