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Monday MLS Breakdown: Recovering From the Fireworks

By Kyle McCarthy

Admit it. It's Monday morning after a holiday weekend. The general Monday grogginess is enhanced by the burgers that are still settling from the Saturday night revelry. It happens even to the best of us.

With that celebratory recovery in mind, we'll keep it short and sweet in the header before recapping all of the Independence Day weekend action you might have missed while watching the fireworks.

A brief addendum to last week's column on roster depth

I spent quite a few words last Monday talking about the depth situation on rosters around MLS and how those rosters could reach their breaking point over the next two months.

While the situation improved a bit in New England this week (16 available players in a 1-0 loss in Los Angeles), a fellow Eastern Conference squad may just have reached that breaking point. New York brought just 15 players to Frisco for its 2-1 loss to FC Dallas. That threadbare squad included one gimpy star forward.

“If we weren't in the situation that we're in right now, I wouldn't have played today,” Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel said after he started and scored in that loss. “I've never been in this situation in my entire career, especially at this level. We only have 13 field players (in) the squad and I find that shocking. But I guess that's the way it is. There's obviously something we're doing wrong here -- to be at this level and not have sufficient players to fill the bench.”

Sounds like a refrain players around the league could hit again and again as the hectic summer months progress.

Barros Schelotto, Cameron headline All-Star ballot

The MLS All-Star voting deadline arrives today. I managed to carve out a few minutes of time over the holiday weekend to file my ballot.

GK: Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)
DF: Mariano Trujillo (Chivas USA), Geoff Cameron (Houston), Wilman Conde (Chicago)
MF: Santino Quaranta (D.C. United), Shalrie Joseph (New England), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle), Brad Davis (Houston)
FW: Conor Casey (Colorado), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles)

A couple of notes:

- When compiling an All-Star (or Best XI) ballot, I prefer to keep some positional integrity in midfield and include at least one fullback despite the three-defender alignment.

- Why Donovan over Seattle's Fredy Montero? A good question. Montero has the statistical edge (8 goals to Donovan's 6, 6 assists to Donovan's 4), including in the games played column (14 games played to Donovan's 11). Donovan deserves the benefit of the doubt considering the comparative strength of the two squads, but both players should be in Sandy regardless.

- Only one player in this squad is currently away on Gold Cup duty.

- D.C. United, New York and Toronto FC have CONCACAF Champions League matches that week, but those matches didn't disqualify those players from this ballot. Surprisingly, no Red Bulls were in the reckoning.

Week Sixteen – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers

Monday MLS Breakdown Player of the Week – Wilman Conde, DF, Chicago

Rare is the day when a defender can make an honest case for player of the week honors. It isn't that defenders are less than worthy, merely that many seemingly can't understand that players who don't notch a notable number of goals, assists or saves can be the most valuable player in a given week. Fortunately for Conde, he registered the game-winning-goal – a thumping header – in Chicago's 2-1 win in Colorado, the first such win in the Centennial State for the Fire this century. Conde's tidy defensive work and his significant but non-statistically important feed in the buildup to Marco Pappa's opener won't count to those who just look at the stats, but Conde deserves it anyways. Although Conde has made a fine case, he could lose out to FC Dallas' Jeff Cunningham and his two goals, but...

What was he thinking? Luke Sassano, MF, New York

...the first of Cunningham's two goals in FCD's 2-1 win over the hapless Red Bulls came from a charitable Sassano backpass on the edge of his own penalty area. Not even the New York commentators could explain why Sassano would make that backpass with his defenders unaware and Cunningham ready to pounce and place the gift right into the far corner. Two minutes later, Cunningham scored his second and it was game, set and match for the increasingly adrift Red Bulls.

Eleven observations to start the week

1. San Jose head coach Frank Yallop handed Brandon McDonald a start in Friday's 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake because he played well in a central defensive role in a 2-1 victory over Los Angeles on June 20. He could have also mentioned that McDonald's physical presence would give RSL fits. Just ask Fabian Espindola. The Argentine striker lashed out at McDonald after a brusque but fair challenge down in the corner as RSL pressed for an equalizer. The referee brandished red and showed exactly why it made sense for Yallop to start McDonald in the first place.

2. RSL head coach Jason Kreis has a decision to make at centerback after Robbie Russell turned in a second consecutive fine performance against the Quakes. Kreis left Jamison Olave on the pine after he served a one-match suspension. How long does Olave have to wait to get back into the team? Should the move be made now or should Olave stay out of the team with Nat Borchers and Russell forming a solid partnership in the middle of the RSL defense?

3. Perhaps Columbus forward Alejandro Moreno has a reputation for diving. That's just about the only reason I can figure why he earned what was a considerably harsh yellow card for diving when he fell under D.C. United defender Greg Janicki's challenge in the 11th minute of Saturday night's 1-1 draw between the two sides. It was closer to a penalty than a dive, but a non-call would have been appropriate with all things considered.

4. As for United, they put together yet another fine road performance that ended in a draw. If current Eastern Conference leaders D.C. end up facing a trip to Columbus or Chicago for the EC championship game in November, they'll look back on nights like Saturday – and the others that preceded it – and know why.

5. Conde and the Fire sent quite the message with that historic win in Colorado. The Rapids weren't at their best, but Chicago did more than enough earn all three points with a barnstorming first half performance.

6. “I didn't feel as sharp as I would have liked to have felt,” Rapids striker Conor Casey said of his performance upon his return from Confederations Cup duty with the United States. “But I tried to get through it. I didn't feel as well as I would have liked. And we didn't win the game.”

7. “I think we were very equal and pretty much the same for the first 15 minutes,” Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio said after his side's 23rd consecutive match on the road without a victory (0-17-6). “Then, they have a chance. We gave the ball away in a very bad area and they capitalized on that. Then we allowed a second goal in less than three minutes. It was a mountain to climb. We fought back, made a couple of adjustments and I thought we created enough chances to at least tie the game.”

8. “I think what Jeff brings to us that Kenny (Cooper) doesn't bring to us is that pure athleticism, that pure speed where he's able to gain quick ground,” FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said after Cunningham's brace. “If you look at his first goal, he took it off a defender. He outran a guy and then he's one-on-one with the keeper. I thought Jeff had a very good game and I thought the team performed well without Kenny.”

9. Kei Kamara wanted to respond after fluffing a pass and moping about it in last Sunday's 1-0 loss in Los Angeles. Boy, did he ever. Kamara scored the only goal in Houston's 1-0 win in Kansas City, capping off a sweeping move started by a fine ball by Ricardo Clark and continued by a tidy overlap and cross by Mike Chabala. The coup de grace came as Kamara peeled away in celebration, reached into his shorts, pulled out a white glove and jived a bit to honor Michael Jackson.

10. New England coach Steve Nicol had a difficult choice to make when Chris Tierney injured his knee while taking free kicks on Friday prior to Saturday's 1-0 loss in Los Angeles. Wells Thompson, a right midfielder, was next on the list to hop into the starting lineup, but he's a right-footed player. Kevin Alston played left back at Indiana, so the chalk move would be to flip Alston onto the left and play Thompson on the right to ease his transition. Nicol opted to play Thompson on the left and keep Alston on the right. Nicol pointed out that Los Angeles utilizes Todd Dunivant and Eddie Lewis on the left side and said he wanted the traditional defender on that side to help deal with the threat.“We left Kevin there to help deal with that,” Nicol said, adding that he thought Thompson did well in his makeshift role.

11. “It was just a blue collar type of game tonight,” Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena said after his team's second consecutive 1-0 victory at the Home Depot Center. “You have to win these games in this league. Obviously, both teams are missing players, and it’s never an excuse. You have to deal with it.”

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 MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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