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Monday MLS Breakdown: Wild Weekend Leads Into All-Star Game

By Kyle McCarthy

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. -- What a wild and crazy weekend.

There were just too many wacky things taking place in Week 19 for me to summarize in a brief paragraph as I get ready to board an early plane out of Hartford en route to Salt Lake City (via Dallas, thanks American Airlines) for Wednesday night's MLS All-Star Game.  

(Note: That was a not-so-subtle hint to make sure you check the site for nightly updates from Park City, Sandy and whatever other Utah locale I frequent over the next four days.)

Rest assured that Week 19 gets the full treatment it deserves a little bit later in this column, but a couple of All-Star Game-related issues cropped up over the weekend that deserve some attention before they inevitably fade away.

Absences Raise Questions about ASG Withdrawal Policy, Date of Game

Two prominent players -- Brian Ching and Shalrie Joseph -- withdrew from the All-Star Game on Saturday for reasons, at least on their face, that appear to raise questions about the apparent ease with which players are able to withdraw from one of the league’s showcase events.

Ching spent the month of July on Gold Cup duty with the United States and cited his need to rest after the tournament as the reason why he needed to skip the trip to Utah. Ching’s explanation makes some sense given the compressed Gold Cup knockout round schedule and his spotty injury record, though it’s a curious one considering U.S. teammates Davy Arnaud, Kyle Beckerman, Stuart Holden and Chad Marshall were also named to the team and are expected to play on Wednesday. All five players started in Mexico’s 5-0 drubbing of the United States in Sunday’s final, so it’s somewhat difficult to imagine Ching’s need for a break is any greater than any of his international teammates.

In Joseph’s case, the withdrawal has significantly more merit, though it looks just as bad. Joseph is playing with significant pain in his right knee and isn’t healthy enough to start and play 90 minutes for the Revolution. Although Joseph is carrying a legitimate and serious injury, he also played 45 minutes in New England’s 1-0 win over Houston on the same day MLS announced his withdrawal due to injury. The perception from that appearance, needless to say, isn't one that reflects well on the ultimately necessary withdrawal. In essence, Joseph is withdrawing with an injury that hampers him too much to play any part against Everton but doesn’t restrict him to the point where he can’t contribute at all for New England.

While the first, second and third priorities of the individual players (who make the decision whether to play or not) have to rest with their clubs and it's difficult to case too many aspersions on either Ching or Joseph for his decision to skip the game, the question at least has to be raised about whether MLS should find a way to further entice players to play or discourage them from bowing out for suspect reasons. Then again, it would be rough justice indeed to mete out discipline (most likely a fine) to a prominent player for a shaky withdrawal from a midweek match during the busy summer period. The best enticement of all would be to either clear a weekend for the game (probably not feasible given the fixture congestion) or push it back to the end of the campaign when the match wouldn't add a third game in eight days for many of the league's best players. Place the game in a desirable location and those late withdrawals would certainly plummet. Or maybe it would just turn the game into another half-baked event like the NFL Pro Bowl.

No matter the eventual timing or location of the game on the calendar, MLS needs to articulate a policy that clearly establishes when and why a player can pull out of the ASG festivities and outline the repercussions for violating it.

CBA, Bonus Structure Places Emphasis on Worthy ASG Replacements

Those withdrawals could have a real financial impact for one or two players hoping to grab an all-star bonus. The Collective Bargaining Agreement requires MLS to name an additional 14 players to the 18-man game-day roster for the All-Star Game. Although the additional 14 players do not get the opportunity to play against Everton, they do earn some extra dough if they have the rather common all-star bonus included in their contract.

Given the dwindling amount of places on that reserve squad with the replacements now taking up spots, those players on the bubble for an extra paycheck probably weren’t terribly happy to see Real Salt Lake’s Will Johnson earn the nod to replace Joseph. Johnson is a good, workmanlike player and has performed well at times this season, but the Canadian international would be a rather surprising inclusion in a list of the 32 best players in the first half of the campaign. Johnson also makes it a surprising trio of players from the home side, a team currently tied for tenth in the overall league table. While it makes sense to name yet another talented local player to help the side, a more deserving player could get hit in the wallet for the practicality. In relatively less painful news for those still hoping for a bonus, Chicago's Bakary Soumare – Ching's replacement and a much-needed defender for an ASG side lacking bodies at the back – probably would have merited a spot in that so-called reserve squad.

One of those reserve squad hopefuls found out on Sunday night that he wouldn't have to wait for the eventual announcement. Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton earned his sixth ASG nod after Pat Onstad (back) withdrew after picking up an injury against New England on Saturday night. The selection is a welcome and deserved nod for Thornton for rediscovering his old form in the first half of the campaign.

Week Nineteen – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers

Monday MLS Breakdown Inanimate Object of the Week – The Goal Frame

Forget about the players. As shot after shot pinged off the woodwork across the league this weekend, one object stood out in influence over all possible aspirants to the weekly throne.

Who could have used some luck? Freddie Ljungberg, MF, Seattle

The short-tempered Swede saw yellow after Chicago defender C.J. Brown grazed him as he tried to drive into the penalty area in the 59th minute of Saturday's 0-0 draw at Qwest Field. Ljungberg went down easy, but it doesn't take much to knock someone running at full speed off his stride and Brown isn't pliant. A non-call would have sufficed, especially since the collision tended more towards a foul than a dive. After picking up the soft yellow, Ljungberg flashed his latent distaste for the decision to Baldomero Toledo and earned a lightning-quick second yellow for dissent. It all seemed a bit harsh on one of the most fouled players in the league, even one with a penchant for excoriating referees.

Eleven observations to start the week

1.“We were utterly abysmal for 45 minutes and then extremely good for 45 minutes,” Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said after his team recovered from a dire first half and a two-goal deficit to beat FC Dallas, 4-2, in a crazy, crazy game on Pioneer Day (known to the rest of us outside Utah as Friday night). “The problem is that our team keeps showing what they are capable of, and they’re going to be held to that. I think that that’s the type of game that could change our season and that will be proven by what we do next week and in the coming weeks.”

2. Speaking of Jekyll-and-Hyde-type performances, FCD striker Jeff Cunningham exhibited the best of both worlds at Rio Tinto Stadium. Cunningham excelled in the first half. His consistent high pressure in the early stages led to a careless turnover and his 108th career MLS goal, tying him for third on the MLS goals chart with Kreis. In the second half, well, let's just say he submitted the type of performance former Toronto FC head coach John Carver had in mind last year when he idly wondered how Cunningham had scored so many goals in MLS.

3. “I don't think any of them were deserved,” Ljungberg told the Seattle Times about the two yellow cards that led to his dismissal. “I just have to rise above it. ... It's sad he [Toledo] is destroying a beautiful game.”

4. Frankie Hejduk takes a lot of heat for his sometimes wayward crosses from the right side. In stoppage time of Columbus' 3-2 win over Toronto at Crew Stadium on Saturday night, Hedjuk couldn't have hit a more perfect deep cross from the right wing at a more perfect time. The service dropped so beautifully at the far post that Jason Garey couldn't help but direct into the net for the game-winning goal.

5. With the victory (or, actually, by avoiding defeat), Columbus extended its home-unbeaten streak to 19 matches, a new league record. The Crew entered the week tied with the 2004-2005 San Jose Earthquakes on 18 home matches without a defeat.

6. “I thought it was a C-plus game,” Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad said after New England's 1-0 victory continued its Robertson hex over the Dynamo (3-0-1 in four all-time meetings) and handed the orange-clad home side its first home loss of the season. “We didn’t play very well and not with very much energy, but I don’t think it was from a lack of effort. Just tonight, for whatever reason, we looked flat.”

7. “This is the best goal of my career,” Wizards forward Claudio Lopez said after he flew one in from inside his own half past a wandering Donovan Ricketts to open the scoring in Kansas City's 1-1 draw with Los Angeles. The quality of the strike drew praise from another player who knows all about scoring goals from midfield. “It doesn’t matter what league you’re in, what country in the world,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “That was a great goal.”

8. Three things in this life are money in the bank: Death, taxes and Pat Noonan scoring against New York. Noonan collected his 12th career goal (just under a third of his 39 career strikes) against the Red Bulls franchise in Colorado's 4-0 win over New York on Saturday night.

9. After Juan Carlos Osorio pulled the seemingly healthy Juan Pablo Angel off the field in the 60th minute of that match with New York down a pair of goals, Red Bulls color analyst Shep Messing made this comment: “I get paid to talk, so it's hard to be speechless, but you have to be kidding me.” Even with the Red Bulls playing a CONCACAF Champions League qualifying round tie against W Connection in Trindad and Tobago on Thursday in the first of the only two important games they'll play in 2009, it's hard to disagree with Messing's point. It's one thing to be dead in the water, but it's quite another to acknowledge it and fly the white flag.

10.  “We should have put them away,” United coach Tom Soehn told the Washington Post after his side went ahead by two Christian Gomez goals and ended up with a 2-2 draw in San Jose. “We came out [after intermission] and probably played one of the worst halves I've seen - mental errors, tons of it. We just didn't have it, and that's not a sign of a team that wants to become better.”

11. It's a draw that felt like a win for San Jose, but could end up as a loss if Ryan Johnson has to miss substantial time after spraining his left shoulder late in the first half. Johnson (7 goals) has been one of the very few bright spots in the Bay Area this season.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and Contact him with your questions or comments at and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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