Soccer America
Tuesday May 19th, 2009

Not quite one-third of the way through the season, yet with a busy summer of international competitions and call-ups on the horizon, here are a few impressions about MLS:

Notable by his absence from Seattle's 1-1 tie with FC Dallas was Freddie Ljungberg, not only for his contributions to the attack and overall team cohesion, but by his incessant complaining the week before in a 1-1 tie with Los Angeles.

Nearly every time he lost the ball and/or hit the ground, he spread his arms wide in outraged indignation, and he and referee Tim Weyland conversed so often, you'd think they were discussing the government bailouts. This was the same game in which Weyland waved off Seattle penalty claims when Dema Kovalenko wiped out Nate Jaqua as he was about to confront Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts, and sent off James Riley for swatting Mike Magee during a melee triggered when Riley wrestled Gregg Berhalter to the ground trying to get the ball away. Weyland issued eight cautions in addition to sending off Riley, which left Seattle a man down for the final 33 minutes.

While there's no doubt Ljungberg and his teammates had cause to be upset with Weyland, Ljungberg had begun his protests long before Kovalenko fouled Jaqua. Ljungberg also taunted Kovalenko during the match in a most unflattering manner, and didn't let up after Weyland cautioned him in the 61st minute.

The good news is that Ljungberg is adding a lot of class and savvy to the Seattle attack, and is looking like a pretty solid Designated Player investment. If he can tone down his carping at the officials and not become Cuauhtémoc Blanco West, he'll augment Seattle's push for a playoff spot.

There's something missing at Toronto FC, which had a great chance to stamp itself as the real deal with a home game against a tough team, and completely squandered the opportunity by losing to Chicago and the real Blanco 2-0.

A few days earlier, Toronto had run rings around USL-1 foe Montreal while winning 1-0 in the Canadian Nutrilite Championship. But it came out flat against the Fire and after a truly turgid first half, didn't awaken until Chris Rolfe breached the offside trap on a feed from Blanco and caught keeper Stefan Frei in no-man's land to score in the 48th minute.

TFC did create a few opportunities, and Amado Guevara rattled the crossbar with a free kick before Frei pushed away a low shot that Mike Banner corralled and crossed from Brian McBride to bang into the empty net with nine minutes left.

By winning, Chicago (3-0-6) remains unbeaten and is tied with D.C. United atop the East. By losing, TFC's home record drops to 2-2-2. Yes, it had been on a six-game unbeaten run, but despite the raucous support at BMO Field, TFC has yet to turn it into the fortress it should be.

After being run off the (Pizza Hut) Park for most of the first half by Seattle last week, FC Dallas stole a 45th-minute equalizer from André Rocha, and pressed hard in the second half for a winning goal.

It never came, and the game finished 1-1. At first blush, the team's switch to a 3-5-2 formation for the second half and the insertion of holding midfielder Pablo Ricchetti in central defense seemed to herald a new way forward. Well, maybe. Or maybe not.

Truth be told, Seattle came in shorthanded with Ljungberg not available and the suspended Riley replaced by Pat Ianni, and lost left back Zach Scott to an injury early in the match. Still, FCD had to make changes, too; defenders George John and Steve Purdy were replaced before the second-half kickoff, and teenager Brek Shea took over for Jeff Cunningham midway through the first half.

Nine games (1-6-2) into the season, coach Schellas Hyndman is still looking for the right formula. Getting Shea, who was impressive with his touches and movement off the ball, somewhere into the lineup is just one issue to be resolved. He twice failed to put away point-blank headers that could have won the match.

Dave van den Bergh again supplied several dangerous crosses that weren't exploited, and Kenny Cooper labored through another quiet match. Somehow, Cooper has to get on the end of van den Bergh's service, either on balls played to the near post or loopers to the back stick that Cooper can attack.

Chivas USA got a valuable lesson at relatively low cost on Saturday night at Home Depot Center by letting a 2-0 lead devolve into a 2-2 tie with D.C. United.

The team's remarkable defensive record -- now five goals conceded in 10 games -- has masked a failure to put games away and instead rely far too heavily on keeper Zach Thornton. His string of remarkable saves this season is laudable but really too much to expect over the long haul.

On Saturday, Chivas USA conceded goals in the 77th and 85th minutes to get the tie it probably deserved, especially since Maykel Galindo scored its first goal after being a good yard offside when the ball was played to him. And United demonstrated once again its remarkable powers of recovery to retain a share of first place in the Eastern Conference.

Speaking of statements, props to Kansas City for beating RSL 2-0 with a pair of goals by Josh Wolff.

He doesn't have the wheels he did a few years ago, yet at age 32, Wolff still has the speed to test MLS defenses, and is league co-leader, along with former U.S. teammate McBride, with six goals. Wolff, Davy Arnaud and Claudio López are still sorting out their roles in the attacking slots, while newcomer Santiago Hirsig adjusts to MLS as the holding midfielder.

The Wizards' attack lacks a true target striker, which is why they acquired Adam Cristman from New England during the offseason. Cristman has yet to play because of a foot injury suffered in preseason. If and when he comes back healthy, he'll add the final piece to a very potent offense.

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