Steve Davis
Monday April 26th, 2010

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 5:

1. Little tweaks, big differences: Getting excited about newcomers to the league is easy. It's like getting a new toy for Christmas.

There are some good ones in MLS, too. New England's new Serbian attacker, Marko Perovic, has a big left foot and a few tricks up his sleeve. (And he may have been the only one really playing well for the Revolution in their 2-1 home loss to Columbus on Saturday.)

Kansas City's Ryan Smith, Stephane Auvray, Jimmy Nielsen and Pablo Escobar have all arrived with gifts to offer. Leonardo, L.A.'s young Brazilian center back, deserves watching -- although Gregg Berhalter got back on the field in place of Leonardo last weekend.

But sometimes the new "find" is really just a re-imaging of an old, familiar face. Here are two prime examples:

Another reason why a formerly wandering lot in Kansas City has found its way is a position change for Roger Espinoza. The Honduran international (who was educated in the United States at Ohio State and is now a U.S. citizen) has planted his personal flag on the left-back spot. Last year, Espinoza was a lightly used midfielder for a team that didn't make the playoffs. This year, he's a dandy first-choice fullback, pulling his weight for the first team to blemish Los Angeles' record. Others in Kansas City's rear guard are having good campaigns as well, including Escobar at center back and Nielsen, whose shock of blond hair is apparently quite distracting to opposition forwards. The Wizards have conceded just one goal in five matches.

In Chicago, striker Patrick Nyarko always had a little fish-out-of-water look about him. He surely had talent and put it on display in 22 starts last year, although he frequently struggled to properly harness the bursts of speed and spunk that mark his game. Now he, too, is dining at the big kids' table thanks to a position adjustment.

Manager Carlos de los Cobos has drawn up a plan that gets the most from several men. Nyarko is on the right flank in a 4-5-1 or a 4-2-3-1 or whatever the brains of Bridgeview want to call it. Either way, he is an absolute terror for opposition left backs. It helps that he has Brian McBride or Collins John playing ahead of him at striker, as they are going to command a lot of attention. So will Marco Pappa in the center. (Pappa, too, is flourishing in a new role. But he was similarly chewing up ground at his former stomping grounds on the outside.) Even Justin Mapp, who is on the left, is enjoying a little mini-renaissance.

Nyarko picked up his team-leading third assist in Chicago's 2-0 win over Houston.

2. World Cup roster watch and other spotlight issues: There are stories that will always deserve monitoring in MLS. Attendance, for instance.

Summation for Round 5: not horrible but certainly not great on a wet weekend over much of the country. That 8,142 in New England is concerning. The actual number in house at Pizza Hut Park was so far below the announced number (8,512) that league TV partner ESPN was beating up on the suburban Dallas side. File that under "You know it's bad when ..."

And just 15,619 in that glorious building in Harrison, N.J., in a match against the hated Union? (They are going to be hated, right?) Clearly, the New York franchise still has plenty of repair work to do with fans.

Refereeing will always be an MLS talking point. The contentious issues du jour included a late penalty kick against Seattle in Dallas and Real Salt Lake's disallowed goal in Columbus. RSL's Will Johnson was offside on his 82nd-minute equalizer -- or was he?

The other story that needs a highlighter every week (for now) is this stretch drive for the World Cup roster. Your name to know again this week: Sacha Kljestan. He has that Sacha swagger again, and his bold effort from long range went far in securing the points for Chivas USA on Saturday. (He played as a second striker and anyone who can play close to goal these days gets a bump in the evaluation process.)

Chivas USA coach Martin Vasquez says Kljestan is taking more responsibility. "I'm not just saying this because of the great goal that he scored," Vasquez said. "He was able to dictate the pace, connect and find runners. That's the leader we want and that's what's going to help us be successful."

Elsewhere, Robbie Rogers had his best day in a Crew uniform in a while. Anyone think it was just coincidence that it happened as U.S. assistant Mike Sorber was in the stands? Rogers won the critical penalty kick in a 1-0 victory and was generally dangerous all night. Still, it's probably too little, too late for the Columbus winger. If anybody has a bumper sticker that says "Brazil 2014 or Bust," Rogers is probably going to need one.

Conor Casey helped arrange the winning goal for Colorado, but was otherwise unremarkable and still doesn't have a non-PK goal. Jeff Cunningham hit two penalty kicks against Seattle. Otherwise, the only thing he has finished this year are his chances for a World Cup roster spot. Robbie Findley was dangerous off the bench for Real Salt Lake. "Off the bench" does not herald the kind of form that gets you to a World Cup.

L.A.'s Edson Buddle worked hard, although ultimately to no avail on a wet, small field in the heartland.

3. Straining to form a more prosperous Union: On the one hand, Philadelphia is a young team, and young teams make mistakes. On the other hand, it must be frustrating for the Sons of Ben and other supporters of the expansion outfit, because this has the look of a decent side -- if the defense could just stop making silly mistakes.

Philadelphia was hardly overmatched in its visit to Red Bull Arena in the first chapter in what is sure to be a bruising I-95 series. Chris Seitz finally settled his young self and had a nice, professional night in goal, with a couple of worthy saves even. Former D.C. United star Fred is making the attacking midfield position his own. (We can only wonder how much he could assist matters back at his old RFK Stadium address.)

Philly center back Danny Califf wasn't around to take ridiculous fouls and collect needless cards, so that's a positive. Sebastien Le Toux hit for a fourth goal. And young Roger Torres continues to rock the flanks.

But what could defender Michael Orozco have been thinking? He poked an arm toward a ball that simply needed to be headed away in the second half. So for the second consecutive week, New York's Juan Pablo Angel secured the game-winner off a penalty kick to give Red Bull all three points at home, killing off the Union's upset bid.

(You have to like a manager who refuses to take himself too seriously, one who sees what the rest of us see. Red Bull is a better team in 2010 but an unfinished work, for sure. Said manager Hans Backe after his team's latest escape act: "I've been having a few nervous breakdowns.")

4. Gaining information on a big offseason trade: Before Saturday, you could fairly ask the question of which side got the better of the trade between Colorado and New England. The Rapids landed tough, industrious central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and pinballing midfielder Wells Thompson. Heading to New England were veteran center back Cory Gibbs and goalkeeper Preston Burpo.

It pretty much seemed like a wash, with each club collecting pieces it needed. New England definitely needed a more experienced center back, and goalkeeping became an issue when Matt Reis went on long-term IR. Larentowicz immediately found a home next to Pablo Mastroeni in the center of DSG Park.

It's still early, but it's fair to say trade value leaned heavily toward Colorado over the weekend as the Rapids took three big points from Gillette.

Burpo is what he is, a serviceable MLS backup. "Serviceable" in this case translates to: He needed to be better on Mehdi Ballouchy's early strike. He certainly hasn't done anything to make people forget about Reis.

Meanwhile, Colorado coach Gary Smith has sprinkled something on Thompson's breakfast cereal and managed to harness more of that frenzy. He always had something, but his game was really more about spit and spite and frustrating the opposition. Saturday, he looked a little more like a soccer player.

But the game was won in the center of the park, where it was truly men against boys. Mastroeni and Larentowicz were in charge all night against New England's overwhelmed, young pair. Colorado's plan helped, too, as a 4-5-1 (with Ballouchy at the top of the triangle) gave the Rapids an extra pair of legs in there.

The only caveat to it all: Shalrie Joseph (who missed his fourth game this year) could still make this a different conversation. For now at least, the trade is tilting westward.

5. Filling up the stat sheet from 12 yards away: Will this be the year the scoring championship needs an asterisk? A glance at some of the top 10 scorers suggests so.

Casey has three goals -- but all on penalty kicks. Cunningham has three goals -- all on penalty kicks. Dwayne De Rosario is second with five goals, although two have come off penalties and one was more or less nursed into the net by Philly's young goalkeeper. Two of three off Juan Pablo Angel's right foot are from the 12-yard spot as well. (And he is one of two players to have missed a PK this year.)

Meanwhile, let's all say thanks to Buddle, who still has the scoring lead at seven. He has no PK goals, helping to restore some faith in the American institution that is "statistical leadership." Landon Donovan takes the penalties for L.A., although the Galaxy have yet to earn one in 2010.

Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Los Angeles). Defenders: Tim Ward (Chicago), Wilman Conde (Chicago), Todd Dunivant (Los Angeles). Midfielders: Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Baggio Husidic (Chicago), Marko Perovic (New England), Robbie Rogers (Columbus). Forwards: Patrick Nyarko (Chicago), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA).

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.