Our weekly dose of Major League Soccer quick takes, plotlines to watch and Power Rankings.
The story of the week has to be the return of David Beckham. (If we're being honest, it's almost certainly the story of the year. Hell, the Red Bulls are holding a special press conference with Becks in anticipation of Thursday night's match.) The English star -- subject of Grant Wahl's new book -- continues to say all the right things about returning to his American club side, but talk is cheap. The Los Angeles Galaxy, winners of three straight, seem to be gelling.
Will Beckham's outsized presence shatter the always-fragile team chemistry, especially in light of Landon Donovan's comments about the midfielder's failings as team captain? With excellent goalkeeping and a back line capable of putting up clean sheet after clean sheet, Bruce Arena's squad could challenge for the MLS Cup, but only if the American offensive leader and the Englishman get on the same page.
The Houston Dynamo are the latest team to fail to capitalize on a brilliant opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the field. The Western Conference leaders -- which, in their defense, are without Brian Ching and Stuart Holden -- now have dropped two of their last three after posting an 11-match unbeaten streak. With the recent slump, Dominic Kinnear's squad has allowed Seattle and Chivas USA (which has its own problems) to claw back into the race. Those clubs sit just three and four points behind the Dynamo, respectively, and Chivas holds a game in hand. Better yet, eight teams are within seven points of Houston.
The week's two marquee matchups aren't official MLS games. The Galaxy take on Oguchi Onyewu's new club, AC Milan, while the Sounders get Chelsea at home. (Beckham's return to New York is exciting, but the brutally bad Red Bulls -- who will keep manager Juan Carlos Osorio for the time being -- won't provide much competition.) The best game that means something in the standings features Houston looking for answers at Toronto FC in yet another road match. Additionally, Colorado should provide a stiff challenge for D.C. United at RFK Stadium and Chicago can help its claim to first place in the Eastern Conference with what should be a relatively easy win over San Jose in the Windy City.