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Thirtysomethings are getting it done
by Ridge Mahoney, May 19th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] Last weekend was a good one for some of the thirtysomethings in MLS who are edging into the second half of that decade as well as a few on the lower end. A hustling, physical league will always be dependent on young legs but a few of the older (can't say old!) guard proved they can still get it done at critical moments.

Two of them - Eddie Lewis and Guillermo Barros Schelotto - scored the goals that earned their teams 1-1 ties. Older players are supposed to fade in the final minutes, especially in the often-crazed pace of MLS, yet both of these veterans performed their heroics late.

Lewis scored a minute into stoppage time to snatch a tie for the Galaxy against the defending champion Crew Sunday, on what just happened to be his 35th birthday. He equalized a goal by Schelotto (36), who capitalized by an error by one of his few elders in MLS, defender Tony Sanneh (38).

Older players, like all players, can't be perfect all the time, and Sanneh was a halftime replacement for second-year man and last year's Rookie of the Year, Sean Franklin, which did give the Galaxy back line a rather aged tint. Still, it looks friskier than the cast of many that allowed 62 goals last year.

Partnering Lewis and bringing some long-absent stability to the Galaxy back line is Gregg Berhalter (35), who is helping tutor rookie defender Omar Gonzalez, and giving LA a building block for the future as well as some immediate help. Enduring a long, hot MLS summer will test Lewis and Berhalter, surely, but all those years has taught them plenty about preparation and pacing themselves.

One of 32-year-old Josh Wolff's teammates in Kansas City, Claudio Lopez, will be 35 in July; so far, Wolff is the league's co-leader with six goals, and Lopez has three goals and three assists with still two-thirds of the season to be played.

"It stinks, it's no fun getting old, but you have some sense of responsibility," says Wolff. "It's not that you set the best example all the time but as older players you do have that responsibility, and that's something me and Claudio and a few of the veteran guys feel obligated to do."

Those old geezers who play for Chicago probably feel the pounding of playing on artificial turf more as the years and games pile up. Still, they produce. At BMO Field Saturday, Cuauhtemoc Blanco set up the first goal and Brian McBride notched the second in a 2-0 victory that maintained the Fire's unbeaten (3-0-6) start to the season. For the record, both are 36, and BMac - tied with Wolff for the league lead in goals - turns 37 next month.

Let us also name a few other members of the class of 1974 who are still expected to play major roles for their teams: Frankie Hejduk, Steve Ralston, Danny Dichio, Jaime Moreno, Ante Razov. (This should give hope to fans in Houston, as recently signed striker Ade Akinbiyi doesn't turn 35 until October.)

Credit is due to those guys who are supposed to be good when they're older, the goalkeepers. Brandishing the lowest goals-allowed averages so far this season are Kasey Keller (39) and Zach Thornton (36). Their closest challenger? Pat Onstad (41).

If the league is getting younger, older players who can keep up are more important than ever, since that experience and savvy can help the team rally to get results or ride out tough stretches while less-tested teams falter. That's the theory, anyway.

Chivas USA's captain, Jesse Marsch, has already hit the big 3-5. His coach, Preki, one of the league's all-time greats, won an MVP Award at age 40. How long can it continue?

"Especially with expansion we all might play into our 40s," says Marsch, laughing. "That's a scary thought. That's frightening."

 



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