By Kyle McCarthy
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis pondered the reasons why his side ultimately fell to a 2-1 defeat at Los Angeles on Saturday night and trained his focus on one goalscorer in particular.
“The first [reason's] got two names: Edson Buddle,” Kreis told Fox Soccer Channel after the match. “That's two fantastic goals by him, that second goal especially. I don't know if I've ever seen a player in this league be this on fire. Opponents beware.”
As well they should be. Buddle's double hiked his tally and the Galaxy's collective scoring total to seven goals and claimed the MLS record for consecutive goals scored by one player for his team to start the season. And, as Kreis mentioned, the second goal – a calm touch with the instep of his left boot on the edge of the penalty area to settle Juninho's pass and a stunning right-footed volley to separate the teams – deserves special praise for its quality. The decisive strike capped a complete and menacing performance that meshed combative spirit with potency in front of goal and tidiness in possession.
In light of Buddle's recent displays, more than a few people – including Buddle's Galaxy teammate and U.S. talisman Landon Donovan and Kreis – have suggested the 28-year-old striker deserves serious consideration for a spot on the U.S. national team ahead of the World Cup. The clamor places U.S. coach Bob Bradley in the difficult spot of trying to decide whether form trumps pedigree as he contemplates bolstering his wafer-thin forward pool before convening a 30-man training camp roster in mid-May.
Buddle's previously non-existent case for inclusion – the Galaxy striker battled injuries and scored just five goals in 19 appearances last season – strengthens by the week as he continues to his impressive run. Buddle's claims for a place rest on the frequency and manner of his goals and his potential to replicate them as a substitute at the international level. While the latter point remains unproven, the former point is bolstered by the rounded nature of Buddle's displays to date. Although Buddle has proven most potent in the air with his leaping ability and his strength, the former Columbus and New York striker has shown an admirable amount of diversity in his finishing. Donovan's role as provider-in-chief with the Galaxy certainly helps Buddle's cause, particularly as concerns about chemistry in the attacking third surface upon his belated arrival.
Donovan also joins Buddle one of the few players at Bradley's disposal in any sort of form heading into the buildup to South Africa. A host of injuries over the past few months to a series of strikers – Brian Ching's hamstring injury and Charlie Davies' continued rehabilitation from a serious car accident last year – have created the opportunity Buddle hopes to seize, while other attacking contributors from midfield such as Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden have also watched from the sidelines in recent weeks. Including Buddle would add a player with confidence and rhythm to a squad that may presently lack the latter quality.
Present form may constitute the bulk of evidence in Buddle's favor, but its occasionally distorting effect also prompts a hefty dose of skepticism about his claims.
Domestic form doesn't always translate into international success, as evidenced by a pair of selections Bradley made last year. Bradley handed merited opportunities to in-form strikers Jeff Cunningham and Robbie Findley and watched as both players failed to claim them in a series of friendly appearances. If either player had produced the type of performances required to stick at the international level, Buddle's name may have only wafted into the conversation as an afterthought. Instead, the primary purpose of introducing Cunningham and Findley into the conversation is to draw parallels between the recent past and the present, particularly in light of Cunningham's considerably longer stretch of torrid form with FC Dallas and Buddle's comparatively brief spurt in Los Angeles.
One scintillating stretch in MLS does not necessarily translate to success on the international level. Scores of MLS stars have attempted to make the leap during the league's 15-year history and the majority have fallen short of the standard. This trend isn't a sign of inadequacy in the American top flight, but merely the natural paring required in any nation to cull a pool of standout players in the domestic league down to a squad prepared to face the rigors of international competition. Based on Buddle's meager collection of one cap – a substitute appearance against Venezuela in 2003 under current Galaxy boss Bruce Arena – during the Arena and Bradley regimes, it appears those in charge of the national team have harbored serious questions about whether Buddle can transfer his domestic effectiveness to the international game despite a healthy return of 80 goals in 210 appearances.
Bradley will have to determine whether Buddle's impressive start to the season warrants a reevaluation of his previous stance. Buddle's recent performances probably merit further inspection, but his inclusion – and that of Puebla's Herculez Gomez, for that matter – isn't likely to provide Bradley with a choice superior to other secondary options – think Colorado's Conor Casey – with more experience with the squad. The whole cycle feels destined for disappointment for all parties involved, no matter how inevitable its occurrence if Buddle continues to score at will over the next month.
The debate, however, will continue until the final decision is rendered. While some have weighed in and others have skirted the issue, Buddle said he hopes to continue scoring goals as he waits to hear Bradley's verdict.
"It's like a reward for your hard work," Buddle told the Daily Breeze. "If it happens, it happens. There's a lot of talk around it and we'll see what happens."
Week Four – Questions, Thoughts and Answers
Star Man – Edson Buddle, Los Angeles forward
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,” Donovan told MLSsoccer.com. “The goals are going in, but there are other chances in the game that he’s just missing. He’s getting pulled around by people like you wouldn’t believe. He’s getting fouled and hammered.”
The Weekend XI
1. When Seattle substitute Michael Fucito scored his first MLS goal in second-half stoppage time to give Sounders FC a 1-0 victory over Kansas City on Saturday afternoon, he snapped his side's 227-minute scoreless drought at Qwest Field. After watching Seattle toil on Saturday afternoon, it's not hard to see why Sounders FC racked up such a drought. On the whole, Seattle simply struggles to break down composed teams, particularly when it receives indifferent flank play.
2. A Harvard man may have undone the Wizards on Saturday afternoon, but it doesn't take one to figure out that a startlingly young K.C. back four fell asleep at the back to concede the goal. Credit Brad Evans for taking the throw-in quickly and Fucito for exploiting the space behind Matt Besler, but Wizards manager Peter Vermes may just be wondering whether his side would have taken away its hard-earned point if veteran defender Jimmy Conrad hadn't gone off with a 32nd minute calf injury. The goal provided an unfortunate end to a day that showed the Wizards could compete with their aggressive pressing style away from CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
3. Opposing teams will take one lesson in particular from Houston's 3-0 demolition of Chivas USA on Saturday afternoon at Robertson Stadium: Lovel Palmer cannot be granted time and space to shoot from distance. The Jamaican midfielder smashed home a stunning strike during preseason to help earn himself a contract and repeated the feat with a powerful 30-yard blast to put the Dynamo up 2-0 inside 20 minutes against the Red-and-White.
4. Chicago substitute Brian McBride bolstered his claims for a shock recall ahead of the World Cup by providing the difference in the Fire's 2-0 win over D.C. United on Saturday night. An intelligent flick ensured Patrick Nyarko's pullback located Marco Pappa and allowed the Fire winger to lash home the opener, while a cagey header guided Andrew Dykstra's long clearance inside Troy Perkins' near post to seal the points. When Bradley looks down his bench, he'll want to find someone who can come on and change a game. McBride, at least for one night, showed he still possesses the ability to do just that.
5. Three second-half sequences captured United's season-to-date in a nutshell: (1) An expansive group discussion over a free kick located on the edge of the penalty area results in Santino Quaranta smashing his low effort off the wall; (2) Danny Allsopp's goalbound rebound off a considerably better Quaranta free kick gets blocked down en route by Wilman Conde and (3) Perkins – the man acquired to secure United's rickety goalkeeping situation – allows one of the softest goals ever conceded at RFK Stadium by allowing McBride's header from just inside the penalty area to beat him at the near post.
6. New York claimed a victory it scarcely deserved when Juan Pablo Angel scored from the spot to give his side a 2-1 win over FC Dallas on Saturday night, but the plaudits went to Bouna Coundoul and his seven spectacular saves for giving the out-of-sorts Red Bulls a chance to claim all three points. “He rebounded well,” New York coach Hans Backe said after his Senegalese goalkeeper shook off a dreadful mistake at Chivas USA last weekend to help his team defeat FCD. “He was absolutely top class today. His saves on the line, his deflected shots – you can’t do it better.”
7. San Jose looks to have found a useful winger in former Montreal midfielder Joey Gjertsen based upon his display Saturday night's 2-0 win over New England. Gjertsen's 50-50 challenge – one the Revs felt may have warranted a foul – and intelligent pass earned him an assist on Chris Wondolowski's opener. In addition to his helper, Gjertsen's industry and service on the right side offered a natural complement to Bobby Convey down the left.
8. Marko Perovic may have floated in and out of the match in his first start for the Revolution, but the Serbian showed enough to suggest he could play an integral role in the New England attack once Shalrie Joseph (right hip flexor strain) returns and brings a healthy dose of possession with him.
9. Juninho submitted his best performance in a Galaxy shirt on Saturday night. When the Brazilian can find some time and space on the ball, he possesses the ability to cause problems. His movement and his increased familiarity with the Galaxy's preferred means of attack ensured he offered an incisive option through midfield more often than not.
10. Colorado needs to discern a viable secondary plan of attack when its reliance on its wingers isn't yielding dividends. Although the Rapids emerged with a 3-1 win over a fatigued Toronto FC side on Sunday afternoon, Gary Smith's side didn't exactly run out as convincing winners. Part of the problem: wingers Colin Clark and Jamie Smith provided indifferent service from the wide areas. When the Rapids can't get balls into the box, they often resort to dumping the ball over the top to Omar Cummings because they struggle to find a more complex way through. The lack of secondary ideas didn't hurt Colorado against TFC, but it may pose problems as the Rapids seek to challenge for a spot in the league's upper crust.
11. Tough for Preki to nitpick much about the defeat considering the Reds were playing their second match in four days at altitude, but he expressed displeasure that his side wasn't organized enough to sort out itself properly on the second and third goals. It's a tough complaint to heed, however, because TFC ditched two of its more vocal players – Carl Robinson and Adrian Serioux – during the offseason to head in a different direction. At some point, a new vocal leader must emerge or similar incidents will occur as the season progresses.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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