Steve Davis
Monday September 6th, 2010

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 23:

1. Young goalkeepers do the darndest things: Teams that choose to "season" a young goalkeeper in matches that matter are bound to pay the price at some point. So it was in Round 23, where two sides deploying young gloves paid the tax for goofs in goal.

At D.C. United, 19-year-old Bill Hamid made hash of what should have been a routine clearance with his feet. D.C. teammate Clyde Simms stirred up the trouble with a back pass that left young Hamid with too much to do. When Columbus' Guillermo Barros Schelotto pressured, Hamid appeared to panic a little and, well, the results weren't pretty. The United man whiffed, Schelotto finished and the rest of us rushed to YouTube to see it again. It was the only goal in Columbus' 1-0 win at RFK.

Chris Seitz's error for the Philadelphia Union wasn't as blatant, but it was another splotchy moment for Peter Nowak's No. 1. It's gotten to this point: If you say something about "Chris Seitz's blunder," you had better darn well say which one. Because the first-year starter, now 23 years old, has quite a litany of them.

Davey Arnaud's free kick would have been a routine catch for a better-positioned 'keeper. But Seitz was too far off his line when Arnaud's inswinging free kick from a rather benign position -- benign in terms of a direct shot, that is -- fell right over him. That matched Sebastien Le Toux's goal for Philly in the teams' 1-1 tie.

At some point, Nowak must decide if Seitz's struggles can still be filed under "young man learning his craft." At some point, Seitz is what he is. Perhaps we're not there just yet. Still, Nowak does have a big offseason choice to make in regard to the future protector of the PPL Park goal.

Of course, not every young goalkeeper is as wobbly as the economy. Sean Johnson (21) was nothing but solid against Los Angeles. Again. Besides, older goalkeepers can err, too. Chivas USA was holding Colorado scoreless, even if Zach Thornton (36) was having trouble holding shots. Sure enough, the big man spilled an Omar Cummings shot right into Conor Casey's path. That threw open the gates as Colorado pressed on to a 3-0 win.

2. Statement games, or just nice wins? Real Salt Lake seemed ready to announce its aggressive September intentions, absolutely wearing out a beleaguered New York side for a half Saturday night at Rio Tinto. Jason Kreis' team was typically fluid in possession and, perhaps more impressively, dogged in overwhelming the midfield and pressing the visitors through the middle third.

But it would be hard to call RSL's 1-0 win in the league's marquee Round 23 match too much of a statement, considering it was Hans Backe's Red Bulls who were better over the second 45 minutes. So, give the Utah men their win, but call it a wash on any declarations to the rest of the league.

Meanwhile, FC Dallas and Columbus demonstrated they could grind out a win in less-than-favorable circumstances. Columbus had to beat the same team in the same stadium twice over four days, a tall order regardless of disparity in quality.

The Crew had downed D.C. United in a midweek U.S. Open Cup semifinal at RFK. Referee controversy filled the night -- these losses never seem to be United's fault, you know -- so the home team even had extra motivation heading into the "rematch." But Hamid's blunder gave Columbus the lead and the Crew held bravely from there, surely taxed by the travel and stretched by matches in three separate competitions. United just doesn't have the speed right now to punish a tired team (beyond the continued, exceptional rookie season from Andy Najar), so the Crew is now even with the Galaxy in the Supporters Shield dash.

We've seen the Crew grind out wins before. Not so with FC Dallas.

At Pizza Hut Park, the home team began without five injured or suspended starters. When a hamstring pull yanked George John from the field, more than half of Dallas' starters were on the shelf. The side's middle was especially gutted: John, fellow center back Ugo Ihemelu and central midfielders Dax McCarty and Daniel Hernandez were all on the sidelines.

Luckily for Dallas, TFC was without its top two performers, Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman. All out of sorts, the home team was barely able to hang on against Toronto's committed effort. In the end, a white-knuckle 1-0 win is a very different sort of achievement for a team more accustomed to controlling matches by dominating possession. And possibly a more important one in the big picture.

3. The Rapids are rising ... maybe: Gary Smith's Colorado Rapids are 3-1-1 since July, having re-introduced themselves to the playoff race after slumping in July. They were winless over seven matches before the August rise.

But are the Rapids suddenly making noise, or benefiting from an easier slate in the schedule?

Two consecutive 3-0 wins might seem to say a lot. But one was against the weakest Houston Dynamo team we've seen yet, and one playing almost 80 minutes a man down.

This weekend's 3-0 whacking was against Chivas USA, the worst team in the West. Before that, the Rapids had tied the Philadelphia Union, another team that won't make the playoffs.

"What you see now is a group of players that are confident with each other with the way that they are playing," Smith said. "They found the back of the net last week and found out that they liked it."

On the other hand, over the current stretch the best test for Colorado was a flop, a 3-1 loss to Columbus. So, which one is it?

We should know more this week when Smith's Rapids travel to Red Bull Arena. They do have four hot feet in Casey and Cummings, who has three goals over his last two matches.

(And by the way, Cummings should have had an assist in Saturday's win over Chivas USA. Seriously, MLS should review its criteria for assists. Cummings makes a great move to fire a fierce shot at Thornton, which Casey cleans up for the goal. No assist. Meanwhile, guys might make a pass in midfield that eventually turns into a goal and someone gets an assist for that? MLS should sort that out.)

4. Some referees missed the memo: It's almost playoff time. The race for postseason spots will be fierce. But you probably know that.

Presumably, so do the referees. Or do they?

Things are going to be hotly contested. They certainly were at Gillette Stadium, where referee Silviu Petrescu has only himself to blame for losing control. Seattle defender Patrick Ianni stomped on Shalrie Joseph off the ball. Joseph reacted by slapping at Ianni, who fell dramatically and needed, ahem, treatment. Joseph must have hit him with some sort of magical finger punch.

Anyway, Petrescu seemed to have the right idea when he marched with a purpose toward Ianni while reaching into his back pocket. "Ah, here we go! He's got this under control." But as Ianni lay in, ahem, agony, Petrescu lost his nerve. He didn't so much as caution either player.

Of course, at that point, players are frustrated and fans are frustrated and, well, it's the Wild West out there because there's no authority figure in charge. Sure enough, Seattle's Fredy Montero ran New England's Kevin Alston into the sign boards dangerously just a couple of minutes later. Players gathered, hurtful words were said ... and it was all so silly and unnecessary if the man in the middle had just put his thumb on things in the first place.

In Dallas, some of the things Alex Prus allowed would gain prosecution beyond stadium grounds. Toronto players apparently didn't believe they could match the home team technically, so they kicked, hacked and ran over with relative impunity. This is what MLS wants? Teams bent on thugging their way to success? Didn't people learn anything watching that World Cup final?

There are seven rounds left. With all but perhaps one team still holding out playoff hope -- unrealistic as it may be in some cases -- referees simply have to be on top of things better than some were in Round 23.

5. Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Jimmy Nielsen (Kansas City). Defenders: Kosuke Kimura (Colorado), Wilman Conde (Chicago), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Roger Espinoza (Kansas City). Midfielders: Kheli Dube (New England), Mike Banner (Chicago), Geovanni (San Jose), Chris Tierney (New England). Forwards: Omar Cummings (Colorado), Conor Casey (Colorado).

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