Wednesday August 8th, 2007

Will Hesmer
German Alegria/MLS/WireImage.com
Down the stretch
Two-thirds of the season is complete (unless you play for the Galaxy). And the race for the final playoff spots couldn't be tighter. Here are the five not-always-obvious players who will need to come up big over the final two months to get their teams into the postseason.

1. Claudio Reyna, Red Bulls -- He didn't arrive with a goal-scoring flurry like Juan Pablo Ángel. He hasn't energized his team like Cuauhtémoc Blanco has done in Chicago. Then again, he may end up missing fewer games to injury than David Beckham, Reyna's knock entering the season. But here's what Reyna -- MLS' quietest DP -- has do to: help revitalize a stagnant Red Bulls attack that was one of the league's most potent six weeks ago.
2. Chris Rolfe, Fire -- While all the attention will be on new arrivals Paulo Wanchope and Blanco, don't forget it was Rolfe who sparked Chicago's hot start. Rolfe hasn't started a match since May since badly spraining his ankle. (Sound familiar?)
3. Will Hesmer, Crew -- Columbus isn't going to score a lot of goals, but the way Hesmer (pictured above) has played since returning from injury, the Crew haven't needed to. Hesmer has recorded five shutouts in only nine matches and his goals-against average is 0.89 (second in MLS), but the schedule will get more challenging over the next three weeks.
4. Carlos Pavón, Galaxy -- Expecting someone else? The Honduran striker, who opened eyes with his four-goal outburst against Cuba in the Gold Cup, has yet to make his mark in MLS. He scored a goal in the SuperLiga slugfest against FC Dallas, but Pavón has yet to tally in league play. The service is bound to improve when the world's most famous ankle heals (if it, in fact, does this season), but the Galaxy are going to have to get more production from their forwards, whether it's Pavón, Alan Gordon or Edson Buddle.
5. Yura Movsisyan, Wizards -- MLS' Super Sub. Movsisyan has only started four times this season, yet he's still second on Kansas City with five goals -- all of them off the bench. The Wizards haven't had a consistent strike partner to take the pressure off Eddie Johnson. Consider this: In the seven matches in which EJ has scored, the Wizards are 6-0-1. In the 12 others (counting games Johnson missed) Kansas City is just 2-6-4.
Foul play
Blanco had his "Welcome to MLS" moment last Saturday. Twelve different times. That's how often the Mexican star was fouled -- or at least a foul was called -- in his second MLS game with the Fire. That doesn't even account for how many times Blanco went to ground after contact with no whistle, drawing the immediate ire of the fiery forward. Chicago-Columbus was a typical physical MLS match (some rash challenges, sloppy tackles), and it's clear Blanco received "star treatment" benefits of the doubt on a number of calls. People wondered how he'd react to MLS referees -- and vice versa. It's going to be a hot-button topic the rest of the way as refs figure out the best way to allow (read: protect) the league's superstars to shine. And just imagine the kid-glove treatment Beckham and his tender ankle will get when he finally makes his league debut."We need to see [some protection of the league's stars], but I think if a guy gets fouled it needs to be called and if guy is not fouled it shouldn't be called," Columbus head coach Sigi Schmid said after the match.
Pipe dreams
It was a good week for reserve goalkeepers. FC Dallas' Ray Burse Jr. found out he would be making his first career MLS start by retrieving a voicemail message after attending class last week at Ohio State. He was stellar, making a number of key saves to preserve the Hoops' win over Colorado. In Toronto, meanwhile, Kenny Stamatopoulos became the fifth different keeper for the expansion team (matching an MLS single-season record). The Greek-Canadian Stamatopoulos, on loan from Norwegian club Tromso, was rarely threatened and recorded a clean sheet in the scoreless draw with the Galaxy.
RankLW Team
11
Houston Dynamo (10-6-4)
Laid egg at RSL; 1st loss to an MLS team since May 26
24
FC Dallas (10-6-3)
Only one point behind Houston -- with a game in hand
32
New England Revolution (9-4-6)
Stunning, uncharacteristic blunder by Reis on Gros' goal
46
D.C. United (8-6-3)
Five goals in first eight road matches; three on Sunday
53
Kansas City Wizards (8-6-5)
Get 17 days off ... then play four matches in 11 days
65
Chivas USA (8-5-4)
Of its 13 matches left, 10 are in the Home Depot Center
78
New York Red Bulls (8-7-3)
Need to take six points from next two matches (TFC, LA)
87
Columbus Crew (6-5-8)
Only Pickens' chin kept them from swiping 3 pts vs. Fire
99
Chicago Fire (5-8-5)
Fire fans were TFC-like for Blanco's home debut in MLS
1011
Toronto FC (5-9-5)
Goalless droughts of 384 and now 372 minutes in 2007
1110
Los Angeles Galaxy (3-5-5)
Lucky -- very lucky -- to escape with a point Sun. at TFC
1313
Real Salt Lake (2-9-6)
Deserve to climb out of the cellar after beating Houston
1212
Colorado Rapids (4-9-6)
Misery extended with a 5-0 Open Cup drilling by Seattle

1. Luciano Emilio
D.C. United

2. Ray Burse Jr.
FC Dallas

3. Abel Xavier
L.A. Galaxy
Thursday, Aug. 9
D.C United 2, Los Angeles 0 (ESPN2) -- Will Becks be at RFK ... to see MLB's Nationals?
Saturday, Aug. 11
FC Dallas 2, Columbus 1 (FSC) -- Hoops' Arturo Alvarez (4 goals in 5 games) is red hot
Houston 2, Colorado 0 (HDNet) -- This winless streak, Colorado, goes all the way to 11
Sunday, Aug. 12
New York 2, Toronto FC 0 -- Long break rejuvenates Red Bulls in Mo's return to Jersey
New England 1, L.A. 0 (Galavision) -- Tough week for the Galaxy with or without Beckham

Last Week: 2-4; This season: 44-55
There's the Madden Curse, but what about FIFA 08? In case you missed it, Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore shares the cover of the North American version of the popular soccer video game with Ronaldinho and Club América goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. See some of the screenshots of Altidore (in what looks like a new Red Bull Park) here.

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