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MLS's best so far
by Ridge Mahoney, May 1st, 2008 6:45AM

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TAGS:  mls


Turnarounds in Toronto and Columbus, optimism in Salt Lake City, (more) turmoil between Chicago and New York, confusion in Houston, and a slam-bang SuperClasico at Home Depot Center marked the first month of MLS play. Here's Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney's Best XI for those first five weekends of play, including a head coach and a few substitutes. (The first team wouldn't take the field as a unit; rather, these are the top performers vital to the success of their teams.)

FORWARDS
Landon Donovan (Los Angeles). Duh. His superb play and eight goals confirm just how dangerous and talented he is when pumped up. And, perhaps, he's proved all the mindless yak about whether his best position is at forward or in midfield is meaningless compared to his fitness and mindset. The rest is just details.

Alejandro Moreno (Columbus). Not blessed with great speed or superb touch or imposing size, the tough and relentless Moreno has all but eradicated his disappointing time with Houston (three goals in 34 games). Crew coach Sigi Schmid originally drafted him out of UNC Greensboro while coach of the Galaxy.

Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas). Only time will tell if he can produce consistently over a full season but the pairing of him and Arturo Alvarez is a valuable option to the FCD attack. He also has Dominic Oduro and Abe Thompson pushing him for playing time.

MIDFIELDERS
Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus). Double duh. In his second season, he's learned the ways of MLS. Given free license by Schmid to run the show, which he does by roaming side-to-side in search of weak spots and hitting great balls on set pieces as well as during the run of play, Schelotto is also scrapping for loose balls and winning tackles.

Amado Guevara (Toronto FC). A year after bolting from MLS rather than being traded to Toronto by Chivas USA, the 2004 league MVP is slicing up opponents by his brazen dribbles and incisive free kicks. A long season on turf lies ahead, but if he and Laurent Robert stay the course, TFC may be playoff-bound.

David Beckham (Galaxy). He's brilliant on the ball, of course, but the experience and guile he brings are just as important, as evidenced by his spin and run around Houston left back Wade Barrett to hit a perfect near-post cross Donovan headed into the net at HDC April 19. If 2007 was his Year of the Icon, 2008 is to be his Year of the All-Star.

Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA). Two of his three goals have been spectacular strikes, and he has two assists, yet he's playing tougher in the tackle and on head balls. Getting sent off April 12 for hacking Schelotto is taking it too far, but both for club and country, he's responded to demands for more defensive work.

DEFENDERS
Diego Gutierrez (Chicago). He's announced 2008 will be his final season, and the veteran of 12 seasons is playing every game with purpose and drive. He's committed only two fouls and been fouled 10 times, which is the reverse of what most defenders record. In the absence of injured veteran C.J. Brown, Gutierrez's experience has helped the Fire limit opponents to just three goals.

Kevin Goldthwaite (Red Bull New York). The arrival of Coach Juan Carlos Osorio has brought steel to very porous back line with a switch to a three-man system. Goldthwaite, who usually plays on the left, scored his first MLS goal in the opener against Columbus and also played centrally in place of Jeff Parke.

Michael Parkhurst (New England). New England has played with both three and four in the back while changing personnel, which wouldn't be effective if not for Parkhurst's timing, anticipation, and sure tackling.

GOALKEEPER
Jon Busch (Chicago). Three years ago he suffered the first of two serious ACL injuries that limited him to 20 games in the past three seasons. He leads the league in saves (28), save percentage (93.70) and goals-allowed average (0.60). He's quick, brave and capable of the spectacular, such as his flying deflection of a Ned Grabavoy laser April 12 against San Jose.

SUBSTITUTES
Goalkeeper - Matt Reis (New England). Defenders - Nick Garcia (San Jose), Adrian Serioux (FC Dallas). Midfielders - Jack Jewsbury (Kansas City), Marcelo Gallardo (D.C. United). Forwards - Alan Gordon (Galaxy), Jaime Moreno (D.C. United).

COACH
Sigi Schmid (Columbus). He needs at the very least a playoff appearance, after Columbus' three straight absences (two under Schmid), to keep his job, and so far he's pushed the right buttons.



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