Thursday August 16th, 2007

FC Dallas
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
The rise of FC Dallas
The fact that FC Dallas is sitting on top of the league table 20 matches into the MLS season is not that big of a shock. It's how the Hoops got here that is. Even FC Dallas coach Steve Morrow admits he would have been surprised if you would told him at the beginning of the season FCD would lead the Western Conference (11-6-3) despite getting only four goals from Carlos Ruiz, dealing with the trade demands of Ramón Núñez (who was jettisoned to Chivas USA on Wednesday) and losing Kenny Cooper for most of the summer to a broken leg and Roberto Mina for the entire season. Adrian Serioux is hurt again, Darío Sala has battled ... you get the idea. Morrow certainly does. "It's nothing I would have expected," said Morrow, whose team sits two points ahead of rival Houston heading into Sunday's showdown with the Dynamo. "We've had a lot of adversity to deal with. But this is what I knew this team was capable of. We are where we deserve to be."

All of this comes after the biggest offseason gamble in the league. In the wake of another playoff disappointment, Morrow and GM Michael Hitchcock shipped out practically the entire midfield and biggest salaries over the winter, looking to bring more speed, playmaking ability and physicality to Frisco. It worked. Morrow uncovered a pair of gems at excellent values: Colombian Juan Toja, whom Morrow scouted him intensively on DVDs before bringing him to the U.S., and Argentine Pablo Ricchetti. A number of young talents -- Dominic Oduro, Dax McCarty, Arturo Alvarez among them -- also have played an important role. "All of the changes I wanted to make all worked very well," Morrow said. "I wanted to change the mentality of squad, introduce some big things I thought were missing."

Curiously missing to FC Dallas' formula, though, was a Designated Player signing, but that wasn't for a lack of trying. Names like Edgar Davids and Denílson were prominently mentioned, but none was the right fit for Morrow. "I'm not disappointed at all [that he wasn't able to sign a DP]," Morrow said. "I've said all along that it really had to be the right player. We looked long and hard, but it had to be someone with the right type of character. It also has to fit the right package financially. That's the reason we didn't add anyone."

After taking a few lumps out of the gate thanks to a tricky early schedule, the Hoops are well-positioned for a run at the Supporters' Shield, given to the team that finishes with the best regular-season record. Fighting through the rash of injuries has built up an impressive amount of depth. (Cooper is on track for a mid-September return; Toja, battling an ankle injury, should be back in a couple of weeks.) And the schedule is about to become an ally. Following Sunday's match at Houston, six of the Hoops' final nine games are at home. "The first part of the season was very difficult, but the boys dug in deep and adjusted very quickly. I'm proud of what we've been able to do."
Carson daily
By now, surely you've seen the free kick. If you haven't, YouTube already has pages of clips of David Beckham's first goal with Los Angeles -- this one is from the crowd's perspective. But here are some curious things you may have missed from the Galaxy's 2-0 victory over D.C. United in the SuperLiga semifinals on Wednesday.
  • Beckham -- not Landon Donovan -- was wearing the captain's armband. "It made him a real part of the team," Donovan said.
  • The Galaxy now have as many victories in SuperLiga as they do in league play -- three.
  • The Home Depot Center, actually, was half-full during Becks' free kick. But unlike the rock-concert-like crowds Beckham has drawn, this was a real soccer crowd, says's Grant Wahl. And the fans didn't leave disappointed.
  • Just minutes before his strike, Beckham was involved in a clumsy challenge with D.C.'s Jamie Moreno in the 18th minute that made everyone associated with the Galaxy hold their breath. But despite a painful grimace from Becks, he appeared no worse for the wear.
  • The SuperLiga final vs. Mexican champs Pachuca -- and the $1 million prize that goes with it -- is the Galaxy's only real chance for silverware. Curiously, the Galaxy's MLS postseason hopes would be in much better shape if not for the change to the playoff rules. In the old format, L.A. would be only seven points behind Colorado for the West's fourth slot -- with five games in hand. With the change, which invites the eight teams with the most points regardless of conference, the Galaxy are 12 points behind Columbus.
  • RankLW Team
    FC Dallas (11-6-3)
    2 great goals after 80th minute to swipe 3 pts. from Crew
    New England Revolution (10-4-6)
    Twellman has nine goals in 11 career matches vs. Rapids
    Houston Dynamo (10-7-4)
    Six of seven losses in MLS have been by a 1-0 scoreline
    D.C. United (9-6-3)
    Critical stretch for D.C.: Four of next five are on the road
    Kansas City Wizards (8-6-5)
    Hartman is only 29 saves away from 1,000 in his career
    Chivas USA (8-5-4)
    Núñez fills the talented-but-moody role left by Guevara
    New York Red Bulls (9-7-3)
    Energetic play of Joe Vide has been a pleasant surprise
    Columbus Crew (6-6-8)
    Must start to do better on road (1-5-4) to make playoffs
    Chicago Fire (5-8-5)
    Beware, Crew: Only six points back with 2 games in hand
    Toronto FC (5-10-5)
    So many injuries, defender Marshall had to play up front
    Colorado Rapids (5-9-6)
    De Ro's gift was Colorado's first home goal since May 26
    Los Angeles Galaxy (3-7-5)
    L.A still winless on road and hasn't scored in 285 minutes
    Real Salt Lake (2-9-6)
    Exactly one year since RSL's last back-to-back victories

    1. Clarence Goodson
    FC Dallas

    2. Jozy Altidore
    New York Red Bulls

    3. Terry Cooke
    Colorado Rapids
    Thursday, Aug. 16
    New England 2, Colorado 0 -- MLS' best road squad historically has had trouble in Colo.
    Saturday, Aug. 18
    Chivas USA 1, Toronto FC 0 -- TFC nears single-season scoreless drought (95 min. away)
    New York 3, L.A. 1 (FSC) -- A rare packed crowd; How much will Becks play on FieldTurf?
    Columbus 1, D.C. United 0 (HDNet) -- Crew earn much-needed win vs. road-weary United
    Chicago 2, Real Salt Lake 2 -- RSL has played well vs. Eastern teams at home in '07
    Sunday, Aug. 19
    Houston 1, FC Dallas 0 (Galavision) -- Dynamo bounce back after SuperLiga heartbreak
    Kansas City 2, New England 1 -- Wizards make the East race that much more compelling

    Last Week: 4-1; This season: 48-56
    St. Louis is making a serious bid for an expansion franchise -- perhaps to be called St. Louis United -- with an impressive stadium plan. But I must say, what really caught my eye is that sharp-looking crest it has on featured its Web site.

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