Steve Davis
Monday May 17th, 2010

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 8:

1. Don't cry for the Galaxy -- L.A. will be fine: Hmmm. A scoreless draw at the Home Depot Center. Anybody see more of these coming out of Galaxy Valley over the next few weeks?

Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and the rest of the Galaxy were fairly muted in something of a snoozer against Toronto. The U.S. camp-bound pair did pose occasional danger. Otherwise, there wasn't much going on.

And that's probably how the league-leading Galaxy will play it while Donovan, and quite possible Buddle, are away for World Cup duty.

Fact is, Bruce Arena's side will be mighty light on offensive weaponry. Clint Mathis was brought aboard, in part, to punch up the offense in Donovan's absence. But he's just back from injury and looks pretty heavy; quality wise, he's about 40 cents on the Donovan dollar.

Jovan Kirovski is a nice guy for Arena to have around, serviceable in a number of roles. But he's only good for the occasional goal. Juninho has been OK as an attacking midfielder, but without Donovan and Buddle around to occupy defenders, he could easily shrink further into the background.

Of course, Arena knows all this. So the Galaxy will keep doing what it does anyway: play it safe and simple. That's why L.A. can play a bit of a stinker, as it did Saturday against a Toronto team adjusting to life under Preki and still claim a point.

Generally, L.A. players stay within their ability. Take Chris Birchall for example. After a slow start in MLS, he has found better footing as a holding midfielder. He's not great, but he doesn't need to be. He usually doesn't attempt more than he can manage. There's a lot to be said for this kind of self awareness. The defense remains tightly organized, and the Galaxy has the league's best goalkeeping situation; Josh Saunders spelled the injured Donovan Ricketts on Saturday with no drop off.

Bottom line, Arena's men have built an impressive cushion at the top of the West. "It was the main thing, really, to get off to a good start going into the crunch where Landon and Edson would be away," Birchall said. Mission accomplished, their reward is leverage, the option of playing cautiously over the next six weeks, waiting as patiently as always for the other guy to screw up.

Mike Magee and Alan Gordon up top, anybody? Looks like a Galaxy game is a scoreless draw waiting to happen for a little while.

2. Anyone bound for New Jersey make some hay? The goals dried up in MLS Round 8, with just 13 tallies in eight matches. Could it be a little World Cup roster distraction at work?

Probably not. But it is a little suspicious that only a couple bright lights bound for a World Cup training camp in New Jersey delivered any kind of night to remember.

Robbie Findley celebrated his invitation to camp with a nice goal in a 3-1 win over Houston. But he missed on a couple of other chances, so he'll need to be better over the next two weeks in the New Jersey crucible.

Buddle hit the post for L.A. but was otherwise tame. Donovan smacked a couple of dangerous serves and drew some fouls. Meh.

There were four men in route to camp at Crew Stadium. Robbie Rogers brought his usual bag of "up and down." Sacha Kljestan was pretty good for his visiting Chivas USA, although his work couldn't produce anything in the 1-0 loss. Chad Marshall won a critical PK and looked wise beyond his years (once again) in the back. Jonathan Bornstein worked a few combinations with Kljestan, although to no avail.

Heath Pearce was, well, Heath Pearce. That is, a solid player who will never win or lose you a game.

(By the way, in a small volley of validation for Bob Bradley's choices neither Conor Casey nor Jeff Cunningham was anything to scream about. In fact, Cunningham blew two good chances in Philadelphia, which pretty much encapsulates 2010 for him.)

3. The "soccer brain" problem in MLS: While a team like the Galaxy succeeds on the simple coaching tenet that says "let the other guys make the mistake," plenty of sides represent the polar opposite.

Honestly, it can be shocking how many sides just can't manage a game properly and professionally. Lots of sides just don't have the collective, requisite "soccer brain." Because the game is more than talent and a tactical plan. It's also about having wits on the field, about having a sense for how to handle certain situations and how to avoid the crippling mistakes.

A talent gap is one thing. That's what we see right now at New England. The Revs are so plagued by injury, they really should consider dressing department store mannequins just to fill out the bench and look a little less sickly. And yet the Revs keep things close through effort and, generally, adept game management.

Elsewhere? Not so much. Philadelphia has given away points aplenty already through thickheaded hacking and fouling. Captain Danny Califf and right back Cristian Arrieta are the worst violators. They struggle to defend, so they take too many cards and give away way too many free kicks in dangerous spots.

Dallas lost a lead in Round 8. Again. FCD's problem, like other teams', is the inability to manage a lead. The visitors dropped ever deeper and couldn't keep possession to save their souls, and they finally conceded the stoppage time equalizer to Philly.

Chicago yielded a late one at Kansas City, forcing a split of the points. That's a verse we've sang before for the Fire. Chivas USA's Justin Braun switched off for a second and let Columbus' Marshall get position on a late restart. He had to foul and the resulting PK gave Columbus all three points.

Honestly, though, these are just the latest examples. It happens regularly, largely a product of a league that's still young, which promotes some contagious naïveté. But it's also a matter of personnel.

In Chicago for instance, Baggio Husidic is rounding into a nice MLS midfielder. He and Logan Pause were in the center of the park Saturday. While they are OK connectors, neither is a pace setter. Say what you will about Cuauhtemoc Blanco, but he understood what needed to be done in various situations.

Nor is David Ferreira a man at the switch for Dallas. He's a good attacker, probably underrated as an MLS creator. But he generally shows only one gear. He (or someone else) needs to know when to remove the foot from the accelerator, making teams chase the game a bit, gradually reducing the number of opposition possessions.

Seattle, another club that's been victimized by late strikes, has a similar issue with Freddie Ljungberg. He's all about "turn and go." Sometimes it needs to be about downshifting.

But that means having a big soccer brain. And those seem to be in short supply.

4. Brian McBride, Super Sub: Isn't this a kick in the head: Chicago striker Brian McBride has a hand in four Fire goals this year, and three of those came as a sub.

McBride has two goals and one assist in two appearances off the bench. Yes, it's a little awkward seeing one of the top U.S. strikers of all time relegated to duty off the MLS bench. It makes you feel a little old, in fact, confronted with mounting evidence that his "young man's" career may finally be in winter.

The man does turn 38 next month.

On the other hand, this looks like a handy manner to squeeze a little more juice from the All-American kid, the very first draft pick in Major League Soccer. Maybe Carlos de los Cobos has accidentally stumbled onto something.

McBride supplied a nice assist and an insurance goal last month off the bench at D.C. United. On Saturday, he came in after the break and turned the night with a deadeye finish right away. His hold-up play was solid throughout.

So, is this the way forward for McBride and Chicago?

One problem is that Collins John will need to play more in that scenario. We may be seeing the reason this guy has changed addresses so often (seven teams in 10 years). Given the start Saturday over McBride, he looked pitifully unexcited by it all. The Fire coach apparently saw enough by halftime, yanking John at intermission.

5. Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei (Toronto); Defenders: Marvell Wynne (Colorado), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle), Gino Padula (Columbus). Midfielders: Sanna Nyassi (Seattle), David Ferreira (Dallas), Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake), Mehdi Ballouchy (Colorado). Forwards: Kai Kamara (Kansas City), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake).

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.