Posted: Tuesday June 7, 2005 2:23PM; Updated: Tuesday June 7, 2005 4:06PM
Handicapping MLS during World Cup qualifying is always a royal pain, and this week is no different. Do you punish still-unbeaten New England for three straight ties, even though the Revs have missed Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston and Pat Noonan? Do you reward FC Dallas for winning yet another road game without Carlos Ruiz and Eddie Johnson? And do you give Real Salt Lake a break for soldiering on despite the crippling losses of Marlon Rojas and TigerFitzpatrick? (Oh, wait....)
Even U.S. head coach Bruce Arena says he was cognizant of MLS in his roster selection for the current batch of World Cup quallies. "There areásome players who could be here but aren't because of how it would affect their club teams in MLS," Arena told me in Salt Lake City last week. "If it was players who could clearly make a difference, they'd be here. But it could be guys who were on the fringe and had opportunities to take advantage of it. With some clubs we'd take a few more players, but that would kill them."
Arena wouldn't specify which players he was referring to, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude New England's Taylor Twellman (MLS' No. 2 scorer with six goals) was one of them. Alas, the snakebitten double-T strained his hamstring again over the weekend, sidelining him for the next four weeks (including, most likely, next month's Gold Cup). Dude can't catch a break.
MLS Power Rankings
New England Revolution (6-0-4)
With Twellman out, we wouldn't be surprised to see Dempsey resume the scoring tear he went on to start the season. Dempsey no doubt will be hungry following a national-team stretch that likely hasn't measured up to his expectations. "Clint's probably best-suited to the central part of the field where he doesn't have to think a lot at this point," says Arena, who saw Dempsey struggle on the flank against England. "When he has some freedom he can do some interesting things going forward, and he's capable on the other side of the ball as well. He has a ways to go, but I think he's going to be a good one."
FC Dallas (7-1-3)
Ronnie O'Brien is quietly becoming one of the elite players in MLS, and his performance in the wake of Richard Mulrooney's season-ending ACL tear has been remarkable. If Dallas can get yet another result on the road at Chicago this week, the Hoops will have banked some serious points with a ton of home games still on the docket. The concern now is Johnson. Not only is he out for another two to three weeks with turf toe, but sources say EJ isn't happy with head coach Colin Clarke for playing him against Chivas USA on May 22. Johnson aggravated the injury during that match (a 5-2 FCD win) and missed out on all three of the U.S.' subsequent games against England, Costa Rica and Wednesday's game at Panama.
Los Angeles Galaxy (6-2-2)
We won't learn much new about L.A. until its consecutive road games at Colorado (June 15) and Dallas (June 18). This week, the Galaxy can look forward to the return of Landon Donovan and a bit of revenge against visiting Real Salt Lake.
Chicago Fire (6-5-1)
When I was covering Gonzaga basketball a year ago, Blake Stepp said I should look out for Nate Jaqua, the Gonzaga soccer player who'd been drafted by the Fire. Well, here we are and Big Nate is coming off a hat trick against Chivas USA on Saturday. The question in my mind is whether any team, the Fire included, can bridge the chasm between MLS' top three teams and All The Rest. It certainly hasn't happened yet.
Kansas City Wizards (4-2-5)
The Wizards' penchant for ties continues to follow them, but some draws (New England) are better than others (Chivas USA). Nice to see the ageless Preki get his first start of the year in the 1-1 tie against the Revs on Saturday.
Now this should be interesting: The arrival of talented-but-temperamental striker Ante Razov this week (in a trade with Columbus for John Wolyniec) could be a godsend, or a disaster, for the Metros. I'm tempted to lean toward the former. Over the years, Bob Bradley has been able to coax more out of Razov than any of his other coaches (Dave Sarachan, Greg Andrulis, Arena) while keeping the peace in the locker room.
San Jose Earthquakes (3-3-5)
The 'Quakes are finding a way to survive without the injured Brians (Ching and Mullan), Craig Waibel and Troy Dayak. If Dwayne De Rosario ever wanted to make his mark as a starter in this league, now is the time.
D.C. United (3-4-3)
The decline of Alecko Eskandarian might be the biggest surprise of the MLS season. Last year's MLS Cup MVP has zero goals and one assist in 555 minutes of action this year, and he was demoted to bench duty in Saturday's 0-0 tie at San Jose.
Columbus Crew (3-6-1)
The last four teams in the rankings are playing some excruciatingly bad soccer right now, all of which leaves me thoroughly underwhelmed heading into Saturday's ESPN2 game between the Crew and Rapids. (Ugh.) At least Columbus found a way to rid itself of its Razov problem, but the serviceable yet unspectacular Wolyniec may not be the answer.
Real Salt Lake (3-6-2)
The bright side: Most of the crowd at the U.S. win over Costa Rica on Saturday actually stuck around for the nightcap of the doubleheader. (Well done, Salt Lake soccer fans, for creating a memorable atmosphere last week.) The downside: RSL is swooning under a three-game losing streak (including two Ls at home). Simply put, it's time for Clint Mathis (zero goals) to start finding the back of the net.
Colorado Rapids (2-7-2)
The Western Conference is as awful as everyone predicted it would be, but at least the Rapids are starting over (in a way) after moving the unhappy Mark Chung and Chris Henderson. Question: Why can't Stan Kroenke be as visible an owner as Dave Checketts is in Salt Lake?
Chivas USA (1-9-2)
Imagine my surprise to see that Chivas' own Douglas Sequeira was actually a pretty good international player for Costa Rica against the U.S. on Saturday. Too bad he wasn't in Chicago, where goalie MartÝn Zu˝iga had a horror show in the second half of a 5-2 loss to the Fire.