10 Bright Spots of Week 2: the Gals’ duo, Conrad’s noggin, and a Panchito

1. Jimmy Conrad

Conrad got pissed about something and Rapids keeper Coundoul looked to be the cause of it. Instead of trying to continue the fight he wanted to start, Conrad decided to answer with his head. Two goals later – the Wizards were still fighting for the win, but you could tell the momentum was still in KC’s favor. The Rapids were punished on restarts as Carlos Marinelli found Conrad’s noggin not once, but twice to lead the Wizards to their second win. The guy’s class, they just need to make sure they don’t give up goals like that in the long run (re: DiRaimondo and Burciaga’s strike).

2. Francisco ‘Panchito’ Mendoza

It would have been easy to give this to Kljestan, but Mendoza secretly was the MVP for the Goats on Saturday vs. RSL. Panchito is one of three Chivas players on the list today as they had the most complete game this weekend, showing class that could win them the MLS West again. I mentioned it when he signed, but his appearance in the line-up is crucial to the Goats success this year. Contributing since Chivas’ expansion days, Mendoza has become a foundational player for the franchise and along with Kljestan – you can almost label them veterans. Mendoza, however, is approaching only 23 years old.

3. Dave Van den Bergh

Yes, the Red Bulls like speed and so does everyone else that previewed the Red Bulls for the upcoming season. But watching VDB on the wings last season and even at fullback at times, many forget he was the cause of no less than 8 goals last year (8 assists). Sure he had off games, but this guy has played for Ajax, Utrecht, the Dutch National team – give him the benefit of the doubt. He started off this season with the fastest goal in RBNY history at 28 seconds. It was a lucky bounce screamer that slipped by Hesmer. He then followed it up by starting the scrum that led to Goldthwaite’s first goal for the club.

4. Kenny Cooper

The big Dallas target man kept the Houston defense guessing in what was one of the most entertaining games of the MLS weekend. A brace answered questions about whether or not he was geared up for the season. One of his goals – a cheeky chip from 20 yards away – will most likely challenge Maurice Edu’s TFC consolation header for Goal of the Week. One thing is for sure, however, and that’s if Cooper stays healthy, Dallas will compete. They were – after all – a couple minutes away from their first EVER victory in Houston.

5. David Beckham/Landon Donovan

Many have said – “If and when Beckham and Donovan find each other, the Galaxy can win every game”. The problem will be making that such a consistent occasion that the Galaxy can depend on it week in and week out. Two games into the season they are one out of two, 50% success rate. It was shaky in the early going vs. the expansion Earthquakes but the duo’s play kept LA on the right course.

6. Tomasz Frankowski

Another in a long line of successful Polish imports in Chicago? Nowak, Podbrozny, Kosecki…it’s clear that Frankowski can score. He pounced on everything he could, even missing a clear chance at a hat-trick. All the damage was done even before the whistle for halftime thanks to an errant slide tackle from Jeff Larentowicz. Couple that with a bad Parkhurst game and you’ve got the perfect scenario for a old wily veteran like Frankowski to bag a couple goals.

7. Geoff Cameron

Gotta hand it to the 22-year old for making the absolute best out of his first MLS start. A goal and an un-recognized assist in a back-and-forth match-up that saw Houston fight their way back to level twice. The “assist” came on a beautifully laid cross across the goalmouth that eventually hit off FC Dallas’ central defender Drew Moor and into the back of the net. The URI Superdraft pick was lost on several occasions but did nothing to hurt the team. His goal deadlocked the game at 3-3 in injury time.

8. Sacha Kljestan

He had some shaky appearances in Olympic Qualifying, but the Californian has really come into his own for Chivas USA. Many fail to realize the extent of his improvement last year. 13 assists and several timely goals tell the tale. He’s already come out firing this year, grabbing a goal and assist versus RSL.

9. Red Bulls defense

Even with Jeff Parke’s late ejection, RBNY’s defense looked dramatically poised compared to last year. Kevin Goldthwaite has done his work in the offseason and figured out how to be a consistent force in the first team. A lot of it might have to do with the fact that he’s not being shipped around from San Jose to Houston to Toronto FC to RBNY…Along with Parke and – I can’t believe I’m saying this – Chris Leitch, the Bulls backline handled Schelloto and the Crew on a weekend that wasn’t kind to MLS defenses.

10. Alecko Eskandarian

First appearance, first goal. Got to appreciate the heart and work ethic a former MLS Cup MVP that has been thrown around the league over the past couple years. Sure, a lot of that has to do with underperformance, but as a professional, Eskandarian does things overwhelmingly right and no matter who he plays for, it’s always nice to see him succeed. Let’s just hope it’s continued success…

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10 Bright Spots of MLS Week 1: The Gambians, Cooke, and a Salute to Youth

1. New England Revolution

Introduce two U-20 Gambian players and succeed? Sure. Steve Nicol certainly knows what he’s doing and his opener – without the services of Twellman – truly pays homage to his ability to man manage and bring along young talent. Let’s not forget Adam Cristman who worked well with Nyassi and Mansally. All three – along with the veteran presence of Steve Ralston (let’s hope that shoulder’s okay) and the patrolling of Joseph/Larentowicz in the middle – helped put together an attack that even Houston’s defense couldn’t withstand. On the other end, however, Parkhurst dealt with Ching effectively, while it’s pretty certain that Wondolowski should not be in there.

2. Terry Cooke

When did Terry Cooke get fast? We knew he had a boot, but his speed and tenacity was the difference versus the Galaxy. Could it have been the Englishman just wanted to show up his former teammate Beckham? If that’s the case – the opening goal in a 4-0 drubbing of the Galaxy and two subsequent assists will do just that. We can expect another big service year from Cooke. Someone explain to me how Cooke got awarded that second assist on Colin Clark’s goal??? Clark dribbled for what seemed like an eternity before beating Cronin near post…at what point does Cooke’s initial pass become “unassisted”? 

3. Kenny Mansally/Sainey Nyassi

These kids can play. Nyassi burnt Houston on the wings and was able to finish his first goal ever in his debut. Mansally had his hand in the first goal and looked strong on the ball with an uncharacteristic poise for a first year striker. If Mansally and Cristman do well enough up top, does Taylor Twellman technically become expendable?? (Answer is probably no…). Sainey Nyassi was hyped up a little less than Mansally throughout the preseason, but he arguably was the more effective player. Not even Corey Ashe had an answer for his speed on the wings. Both players if consistent provide the Revs with a depth that could account for the loss of Dorman and Noonan. Let’s wait for week two though…

4. Maykel Galindo

He did it at the expense if FC Dallas’ new acquisition and Mexican international Diulio Davino, but no matter how it happens, the Goats came away with a point. Davino mishandled a trap and Galindo capitalized by pouncing on it and sending it straight through Dario Sala’s legs to equalize with 5 minutes to go. What it made it more impressive was that Galindo is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and isn’t at 100%. The Cuban international then kissed the Chivas USA shield during his end-of-the-game interview. The guy is class.

5. Claudio Lopez

Eddie Johnson who? Lopez and Ivan Trujillo ripped apart a decent D.C. United defense with the help of Carlos Marinelli. Already, this is shaping up to be one interesting year. If I’m not mistaken though, there were some crazy results at the beginning of last year too. Anyways, Lopez is class and looks like he’ll end up being another DP success. In fact, you could almost say that about all the DP debuts.  

6. Dema Kovalenko

The guy got stiffed by RBNY and sent on over to Salt Lake (stiffed in the sense he’s more of a big city guy, Chicago his “adopted home”, etc.), but he made the best of his first appearance. Dema, within two minutes of coming, served a cross that was redirected into the Chicago goal by young Bakary Soumare. In a questionably sloppy game, Kovalenko got the job done. On top of that, Kova was just recently sworn in as an official citizen of the United States of America.

7. Adam Moffat

One hell of a game winning goal for Columbus from the star of the Crew’s preseason. A developmental contract that looks to make a significant contribution to the Crew’s run this season. Reminds me of a younger Kerry Zavagnin. 

8. John DiRaimondo/Nick LaBrocca/Kosuke Kimura

LaBrocca, the NJ native, and DiRaimondo really frustrated the hell out of an almost non-existant Los Angeles midfield. Fernando Clavijo’s injury predicament forced him to go with a lot of new blood. Kimura held his own at right back, keeping Donovan pretty quiet throughout the whole game. From the get go, it was clear who wanted to win the game and all three were a huge part of that.

9. Traveling Toronto FC Fans

TFC had something like 2,000 supporters travel down to Columbus to take over Columbus Crew stadium. The Crew still outplayed them in the end, but Crew Stadium was still Toronto’s for the afternoon. Take those supporters away and you have one pitiful Columbus crowd. Mr. Gillett, you want a team? I got one for you…

10. Jon Busch

The seemingly eternal back-up began his Chicago starting career with a big game. A potent Real Salt Lake offense tested him again and again, forcing him into 8 saves. Busch, who last started regularly in 2004 with the Columbus Crew, looked shaky in the beginning but ultimately showed well and solidified his number one spot. In 2004, Busch was the brightest spot on a decent Columbus team – he posted a 1.07 GAA and a 12-5-12 winning record. Then he was replaced….Here’s to hoping he finds that success again.

10 Bright Spots of Week 24: Kljestan a leader?, Noonan to the forefront, and Chivas keeps winning

1. Sacha Kljestan – a somewhat surprising first pick – I know – but his sophomore season has not been one of ups and downs; instead the Seton Hall product has already outdone his rookie season of 0 g, 7 a, by striking for 4 g this year and adding 7 assists; he put the Goats ahead against Colorado on Sunday after helping spark the 3-0 shutout of Los Angeles earlier in the week; that 2006 rookie trio of Kljestan, Bornstein, and Vaughan has turned out to be the backbone of the Chivas franchise

2. Pat Noonan – the Revs striker has always been on the fringe of the national team radar but he is one of the most consistent MLS strikers in recent MLS seasons; his versatility and character makes him the heart of the Revs; two goals against FC Dallas helped New England clinch a spot in the playoffs; I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon some European club ( most likely English Championship) comes calling for him; always a guy to boost the team when Twellman, Dorman, Joseph go cold

3. Chivas USA defense: they are cohesive to the point that even when you insert a somewhat iffy Jason Hernandez, they coexist and adapt; because of Suarez, Bornstein, Hernandez, Lawson Vaughn, Alex Zotinca (Preki looks brilliant for bringing him along), and big man Shavar Thomas – Chivas USA looks poised to make their second consecutive playoff appearance and this time, they could be heading into it with their first Western Conference championship under their belt. Not bad.

4. Scott Sealy – the Wizards found goals from someone other than Eddie Johnson and especially since super-sub Yuri Movsisyan was shipped on over to Real Salt Lake as the Lakers continue to collect bright young talent; Sealy’s capped a Manchester United over Bayern Munich-like comeback as EJ converted a penalty kick in the 92nd minute and Sealy followed with a goal with less than 30 seconds left in the game; he had also provided the Wizards’ first goal on a beautiful free kick that soundly beat Will Hesmer

5. Colin Clark – his play as of late warrants a higher placing as he never seems to do anything visibly brilliant but he plays his role efficiently and keeps together a questionable Colorado midfield; his late goal earned the Rapids a tie against Chivas USA who looks poised to grab the Western Conference title

6. Christian Gomez – his future is up in the air after this season, especially now that Juan Sebastian Veron rumors have heated up but it certainly seems like Gomez is pleading his case on the field; a goal and an assist against a feisty Real Salt Lake side pushed DC over the top and into the playoffs with a firm hold on the Eastern Conference championship; could Gomez be worth a DP slot?

7. Steve Ralston – the all-time assist record keeps growing as Ralston ; Stevie is one of those guys that can connect with anybody but to have TWO class strikers in the form of Noonan and Twellman, Ralston has been in heaven for years; 2 more assists in a 4-2 win over FC Dallas helped the Revs clinch a post-season berth

8. Blanco – his performance against the Red Bulls was not impressive by any means but somehow he still puts himself on the scoreboard; this time he converted a spot kick and provided the assist on Gonzalo Segares’ game-tying goal late in their 2-2 tie in Chicago

9. Carlos Ruiz – El Pescondito has not been on this Top 10 much at all this season but he has been picking it up as of late; a brace against New England (one a powerful header) was still not enough to help FCD win and most of his goals have – in fact – come in losses; is Ruiz just warming up?

10. Khano Smith – way too inconsistent for my taste but Smith has recently found his stride and was a key figure in helping the Revs find their way to the playoffs yet again; his first goal of the season sealed the deal against Dallas while it was his assist to Pat Noonan that put them ahead in the first place

10 Bright Spots of Week 23: things got weird when Jaqua hit for hat-trick

1. Nate Jaqua – it seems every time Luciano Emilio has a great week, someone has an even better one; Jaqua scoring a hat-trick was certainly not something I was expecting from the big man; he scored one in the first half and added a brace in the second to help Houston squeak by Real Salt Lake 4-3 – kind of an odd game

2. Luciano Emilio – four goals in two games for the machine as his rate is skyrocketing and he now sits solely at the top of the scoring tables with 18; none of this would be possible without the service of Gomez, Fred, Olsen, and recently Brian Carroll

3. Maykel Galindo – are defenders worse this year or are the new additions of Angel, Galindo, and Emilio just enough to outclass a plateaued level of defensive talent? after being kept quiet against DC United, the Cuban struck for two against a tired and undermanned Red Bull squad

4. Wilman Conde – a really inspiring first game for the Colombian as it looks like everyone of their summer signings have started strong; he added an assist in Chicago’s 1-0 win over Columbus; I think Conde is the guy that’s gonna put the Fire through to that last playoff spot

5. Marc Burch – this guy has become D.C. United’s most consistent performer day-in and day-out and a damn-good defender at that; the 23-year old former Terp has certainly proven to be a bargain (3rd Round Supp. Pick) plucked from Columbus

6. Corey Ashe – had himself a phenomenal weekend and introduced RSL to his newfangled partnership with Nate Jaqua as he provided the target man with everyone of his services; between Ashe (a rookie) and Stuart Holden (2nd year) Houston looks to have a promising corps of youth for the future

7. Pete Vagenas – he must have been channeling the injured Beckham as his passes were accurate and good enough for two assists – one to Alan Gordon and another to Edson Buddle: hopefully he can channel Goldenballs for the rest of the 10-game stretch they have as it might be helpful to end the year on a good note

8. Brad Guzan – a 3-0 shutout of the Red Bulls made up allowing 2 goals against D.C. United; Guzan has also been Chivas’ MVP all season, even more so than Galindo

9. Cobi Jones – he seems to really help out when the Galaxy are otherwise in dire straits but it would probably be better if the veteran had evened the ship before it hit rock bottom

10. Christian Gomez – two assists and a smidgen of his former self showed this past week; if Gomez wakes up to the tune of last year’s performances, we could see ourselves one hell of a postseason

10 Bright Spots of Week 23: Benny O thinks he played RBNY, the Argies barge in, and Angel keeps pace

from Because I Think Way Too Much About Soccer…

10 Bright Spots of Week 21: Galindo finds form, Blanco retains form, and Denilson signs a form

At Because I Think…

Let me know if I missed anyone that deserves to be on there….

10 Bright Spots of Week 21: Angel, Altidore, Beckham, Pavon – where do I even start?!

Over at Because I Think…

Enjoy and let me know what you think.