By Steve Davis
May 24, 2010

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 9:

1. Improvise, adapt, overcome: In the spirit of upcoming Memorial Day, let's talk about MLS in terms the brave men and women of our military understand. One unofficial U.S. Marine creed is about making do: "Improvise, adapt and overcome."

We're sure to see a lot of that now in MLS, with summer schedules tightening and rosters thinning. Week 9 taught us that some clubs are better at it than others, as a few teams missed important players but hardly missed a beat.

In Toronto, an afternoon without A-listers Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman could have looked pretty grim. But on this afternoon, at least, it was all good. New England got a lot healthier thanks to midfielder Shalrie Joseph's return but couldn't find a way through a Canadian bunch that's starting to play the Preki way.

Columbus was without three of its best on Thursday against New York: center back Chad Marshall, winger Robbie Rogers and the indomitable Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Marshall and Rogers are in the U.S. camp for now while the former league MVP served a one-game suspension for elbow naughtiness. Still, the Crew prevailed twice on the road, 3-1 against New York and again Sunday as Schelotto rejoined the lineup in a 1-0 win against Kansas City.

The Red Bulls were also a little light in the lineup, most notably missing midfield linchpin Joel Lindpere. Still, playing at home against the severely depleted Crew should have been a recipe for three points. Red Bull held possession and created chances but Columbus ruthlessly punished three moments of schoolboy defending. That's three consecutive losses for Hans Backe's team, which looks increasingly desperate for Thierry Henry's potential arrival (or any other reinforcements that may be afoot).

For L.A., no Edson Buddle and no Landon Donovan was no problem. A doctrine of tight and right in midfield and in defense led the way once again with a 1-0 road win at Dallas. (Overall, five of seven road teams won in Round 9.)

Houston played without Brian Ching, Geoff Cameron and even goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who was in South America for a pair of Canadian friendlies. No matter, as debuting goalkeeper Tally Hall blanked hapless D.C. United.

Finally, Real Salt Lake was already missing workhorse midfielder Will Johnson (also away for Canada.) Kyle Beckerman's first-half injury further exposed RSL's midfield. But Chivas USA was missing some offensive umph, too. RSL was wiser in the adjustment, doing just enough to escape Carson, Calif., with a second road win in 2010.

2. Any way to expedite this possible Henry transfer?: There must be a bug spreading through MLS right now, because there's a lot of bad offense going around.

The weak weekend output: 13 goals in seven matches, for an average of less than two per match. Of course, that's a Saturday night shootout compared to a week earlier, when seven contests on May 15 reaped a modest nine-goal drip.

You can start with Seattle -- although the Sounders' mystery malaise clearly deserves its own sub-head. Stay tuned.

The Red Bull attack is on the skids. You can tell me about a whole bunch of shots and an 11-4 edge in corner kicks Thursday against Columbus. But I'll tell you that production matters, and that Red Bull has produced just once during a three-game losing streak. And where have you gone Juan Pablo Angel? Who is that imposter wearing No. 9 these days?

Kansas City, without a win since April 10, has scored three goals during a current six-game winless streak. (On the other hand, I'd love to see a little more of Teal Bunbury; the rookie raged along the right wing in his starting debut Sunday.)

Dallas has just four goals in five matches as the Jeff Cunningham express has slid way off the tracks.

Expansion Philadelphia gets a pass. But what about poor ol' D.C. United, limping along with four goals in nine matches? Ahem. On the bright side, beleaguered goalkeeper Troy Perkins was much better on Saturday. That's something, right?

3. Dysfunctional offense at Qwest: Is Seattle done? That it? All they got? Was last year's U.S. Open Cup triumph an early peak, the same way some of the pretty and popular folks can peak in high school and slide curiously downhill from there?

The frustration is building in all corners of Qwest, where Seattle seems especially tame. Sure evidence of an offensive capacity in ruins: four goals in six home matches this year. That hardly seems possible, and even the fabulous Sounders fans sound a bit muted at the moment.

The Sounders' lame launch in 2010 really is a head-scratcher, because Seattle doesn't seem like a bad team. Kasey Keller is fine in goal, that stinker against L.A. a couple weeks back not withstanding. The defense is OK, although Osvaldo Alonso's injury waters down the midfield screening.

Steve Zakuani keeps getting better and better. Sanna Nyassi is coming on, so the wings are lively. Fredy Montero is clearly a talent at striker and Freddie Ljungberg is still dangerous. So why is the attack so ultimately dysfunctional? Is it just pitiful finishing? Can it be that simple?

Seattle did create some good chances Saturday against San Jose. (FYI, I'm about ready to say San Jose is playing the best soccer in the league right now. Keep watching Frank Yallop's men.) But the numbers don't lie for Seattle. If there is but one team in MLS worse than you in terms of goals per game -- especially if that one team is four-goal D.C. United -- then you've got a fiasco on your hands.

One problem surely is management's inability to find Ljungberg's best spot. Last year when all was swell, this was just a debate to be hashed out over a strong Seattle coffee. Now it's a real humdinger that deserves more scrutiny. Is he a wide midfielder? A second forward? An attacking midfielder? An outright winger?

No matter where the former Swedish international lines up, he simply must keep his cool. MLS officiating can indeed be maddening. But when his team is withering away, Ljungberg simply cannot waste a drop of energy barking at the man in the middle. Saturday you could scarcely see a shot of referee Alex Prus without also seeing Ljungberg in the frame -- generally up in Prus' face. Schmid noticed, and later indirectly implicated Ljungberg as a leader who needs to do a little more leading.

"I think we all need to look inside ourselves and ask ourselves why it takes 10-15 minutes before we start playing," Schmid said. "We have to look at ourselves as to why we spend game time to argue insistently with referees. We've got ask ourselves, if a guy hits a bad pass, why we throw up our hands and stop playing for a second? I think we need to ask ourselves why sometimes if we lose a ball, we don't react right away and make a second effort and third effort ... Just all of us, that includes staff, that includes players, we need to ask ourselves why we can't do it better?"

4. Shalrie Joseph = instant improvement: One of the league's most influential players returned over the weekend, which means there's fresh hope around New England.

Joseph, freshly back from personal leave, must be the best longstanding MLS player to never win a league MVP. He probably means more to his side than any singular figure, and his appearance Saturday in Toronto made New England instantly, just-add-water better.

Joseph was hardly at his best and yet he's still far superior to anything else New England has in the middle. The passing and possession improved just like that. Having Joseph around means Sainey Nyassi and Zak Boggs get balls earlier and in better places out wide. It means Marko Perovic can get service faster in the hole beneath striker Kheli Dube.

And that's not even mentioning Joseph's ball-winning and leadership. Eight points through a third of the season is not where Steve Nicol's team wants to be. Then again, you do get the feeling things just got a lot better for the Revs.

5. Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Joe Cannon (San Jose); Defenders: Frankie Hejduk (Columbus), Eddie Robinson (Houston), Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake). Midfielders: Eddie Gaven (Columbus), Chris Birchall (Los Angeles), Brian Carroll (Columbus), Andre Luiz (San Jose). Forwards: Luis Angel Landin (Houston), Dominic Oduro (Houston), Chad Barrett (Toronto).

Who has the best situation in the net ...and who needs to get better:

1. Los Angeles -- Donovan Ricketts has proven rock solid over a year and change and Josh Saunders has proven more than worthy as insurance.

2. Kansas City -- Jimmy Nielsen, experienced, athletic and composed, has quickly demonstrated why Wizards officials adjudged Kevin Hartman expendable.

3. Seattle -- If Kasey Keller, 40, is feeling his age he sure is hiding it well. Seattle is struggling at the moment but goalkeeping is hardly the problem at Qwest

4. Houston -- Pat Onstad is the oldest player ever to participate in an MLS match, but he still gets his business done. The Dynamo No. 1 always keeps his teammates accountable, too.

5. Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando may be a smidge susceptible from long range but he's a terrific shot stopper and better than average on distribution.

6. Toronto -- Stefan Frei was a terrific rookie goalkeeper last year around BMO and has shown zero signs of a sophomore slump.

7. New England -- Things would be worse this year around Gillette Stadium if Preston Burpo had not been so reliable in Matt Reis' absence.

8. Chivas USA -- Zach Thornton continues to defy the laws of physics; he keeps aging and still looks a tad overweight, but he seldom gives away anything cheap.

9. Columbus -- William Hesmer isn't bad, but he has never returned to 2008 sharpness, when he helped steer the Crew to an MLS title.

10. San Jose -- Joe Cannon was once the league gold standard between the sticks. He's been up and down the past two years but does still have the big save in him.

11. Colorado -- Matt Pickens' choices off the line can be a bit wobbly at times, but that 0.88 goals-against average says good things about him.

12. Dallas -- The goalkeeping situation at Pizza Hut Park would be dire if Kevin Hartman hadn't been scooped up on the cheap; A struggling Dario Sala lost his job three games back.

13. Chicago -- Young Andrew Dykstra hasn't been bad, all things considered. At the least, he already has partially validated Carlos de los Cobos' controversial decision to ditch veteran Jon Busch.

14. Red Bull New York -- You just never know what you'll get with Bouna Coundoul. They'll earn a few points thanks to his athletic ability; they'll lose just as many due to his notorious blunders.

15. D.C. United -- It's bad when your pricey No. 1, Troy Perkins, loses his job. It's a fiasco when the replacement is a newbie 19-year-old. (Although Bill Hamid does seem to have a future.)

16. Philadelphia -- We heard so much about Chris Seitz and how he was the next great U.S. 'keeper; We're still waiting to see it.

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