Wednesday November 10th, 2010

Lots to talk about in this week's 'Bag, so let's get it started ...

How you like me now? -- D. Beckham, Los Angeles

This one made me laugh, even though I have a sneaking suspicion that it didn't come from David Beckham himself. Let's give the man some credit: He's playing a big role in L.A.'s MLS playoff run less than eight months after rupturing one of his Achilles tendons. (Think about that for a second.) The Galaxy's first-round destruction of Seattle was a team effort more than anything -- big ups to defensive stalwarts Eddie Lewis and A.J. DeLaGarza, in addition to a smart game plan by coach Bruce Arena -- but Beckham is having a sizable impact.

It may seem easy to place free kicks in just the right spot all the time, but trust me: It isn't. The Galaxy scored both of their goals from dead-ball situations on Sunday, not least because Beckham finally has teammates who know what to do with his free kicks. Back in L.A.'s woeful 2008 season, the team failed to score off a set-piece (directly or indirectly) in the final 24 games of the season, a remarkable feat of futility considering the Galaxy had one of the best free-kick takers in the history of the sport (Beckham). This season L.A. led the league in dead-ball goals, which is a big reason why Dallas will need to avoid giving away any fouls within 40 yards of its goal in the Western Conference final on Sunday night.

Let's be honest: In the big picture, the next two weeks are extremely important for Beckham. He and the Galaxy have made a lot of money on his U.S. adventure over the last four seasons, but Beckham knows as well as anyone that he needs to validate it on the field by winning a trophy. Granted, he has been something of a peripheral figure with L.A., with loans and injuries limiting him to playing in just 54 of the Galaxy's 114 league games since his arrival in 2007. But there's still time for him to win trophies this season and next before his contract ends. Judging by the effort Beckham has put out in 2009 and '10, his surprising lack of effort at the end of '08 was an aberration, not the norm. It also helps to have a coach (Arena) who knows what he's doing in MLS.

How tough is Italy -- the opponent for the U.S. women's team in the playoff for the final World Cup berth? -- @RobGreenII

The surprise U.S. soccer story of the past week was the biggest upset in the history of women's soccer: Mexico's 2-1 win over the U.S. in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament. The victory clinched a World Cup berth for Mexico and forced the U.S. to beat Costa Rica on Monday to set up a home-and-home playoff on Nov. 20 and 27 against Italy. How good is Italy? The Azzurre are ranked No. 11 in the world (compared to the U.S.' No. 1 ranking), and they haven't qualified for the World Cup since 1999. Their best player is 35-year-old Patrizia Panico, who has scored in bunches for Italy but didn't get a goal in 10 games for WPS' Sky Blue FC this season. (She did, however, cause the shoulder injury that put Boston's Leslie Osborne out for the season.)

Italy fell to France in a World Cup playoff, which shows that the Italians aren't among the world's elite, but they did upset England in last year's European championship. In theory, the U.S. shouldn't have any problems getting past Italy. If that's what ends up happening, the U.S. loss to Mexico might end up having a silver lining: as a wake-up call to the Americans, as a galvanizing force to bring the team together and as an unexpected boost for CONCACAF, which could get three teams into the Women's World Cup for only the second time in history. (I wouldn't have picked Mexico to beat Italy over a two-leg playoff.)

What do you know about the future of Guillermo Barros Schelotto with the Columbus Crew? Will he stay there, or will he retire from soccer? -- @AndyArg

After the Crew's surprise first-round exit from the MLS playoffs last weekend, Barros Schelotto said he wanted to play one more season in Columbus and that his future would be resolved in December. The 2008 MLS MVP is 37, but he can be an effective player in this league for a while longer.

For me, the bigger question is why Columbus doesn't consider hiring Guille as a player/coach. If a big club like Boca Juniors wanted to hire GBS as its coach, why doesn't Columbus? I'm just not sold on Robert Warzycha, who has done well enough during the regular season over two years but has now gone out twice in the first round of the playoffs as the higher seed. It's possible that Guille could return to Boca Juniors in a coaching capacity, but as my colleague Andrés Cantor points out, it's unlikely that it would happen as long as Juan Román Riquelme is still playing for Boca over the next three years.

It seems pretty clear to me that Bobby Convey could be a great addition to the U.S. national team, especially at left back. Will Bob Bradley be able to put whatever grudge he has against Convey behind him and do what's best for the team? -- Mike Bitondo

The 27-year-old Convey was the best player on the field last Thursday in San Jose's takedown of New York, scoring twice and serving a lovely ball to Chris Wondolowski for the series-winner. Convey also showed a willingness to adapt, moving to left back when Ramiro Corrales had to leave the game with an injury. Whether Convey's resurgence is enough to get a call-up from Bradley is another matter, though. Hard as it may be to recall, Convey played in all three of the U.S.'s games at World Cup 2006 and even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu in our World Cup preview issue that year. But Convey has been public about his falling-out with Bradley as recently as June. "You just know when someone doesn't want you there," Convey told the San Jose Mercury News, adding, "I haven't spoken to [Bradley] in three years." If Convey isn't called up for the U.S.' January camp, we'll know the answer.

Who do you think will get the U.S. call-up for the friendly against South Africa? -- @bfkesq

U.S. Soccer will release Bob Bradley's roster on Thursday. Although it's a FIFA date, the game requires a long trip to Cape Town, and nobody expects Bradley to call up guys who are still alive in the MLS playoffs or getting major playing time at their European clubs with only three days before they'd have to take the field again. So here's my educated guess:

GK: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando D: Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, Eric Lichaj, Chad Marshall, Jonathan Bornstein, Michael Parkhurst, Gale Agbossoumonde M: Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Kyle Beckerman, Benny Feilhaber, DaMarcus Beasley, Ricardo Clark, Robbie Rogers F: Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson, Juan Agudelo, Robbie Findley

That's all this week. See you next Wednesday ...

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.