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MLS clubs test their depth
by Ridge Mahoney, June 9th, 2009 7AM



[MLS] Coping with international absences last week tested the depth of numerous MLS teams, and of those that passed the tests there was at least one major surprise.  Despite being deprived of important players, Houston (Ricardo Clark, Brian Ching) and Chivas USA (Sacha Kljestan, Jonathan Bornstein) both won, by narrow 1-0 scores, against Chicago and Seattle, respectively, heading into their meeting Wednesday at Robertson Stadium.

Veteran Richard Mulrooney replaced Clark in central midfield and helped stave off several Fire attacks after Stuart Holden had scored in the fourth minute. Ching had to sit out because of a hamstring injury. Kljestan hasn't had much impact in many league matches this season, yet a squad still hard-hit by injuries got a victory with "Sueno MLS" winner Jorge Flores and rookie Michael Lahoud on the field.

The Galaxy, missing not only Landon Donovan but defender Gregg Berhalter (suspended) as well, went to Toronto - lacking Amado Guevara and Marvell Wynne - and won, 2-1. The Los Angeles attack has been sparked in recent weeks by the improved form of Edson Buddle, who netted the winner from a feed by forward partner Alan Gordon, scorer of the first goal. Tony Sanneh replaced Berhalter in a back line that sprung numerous leaks, forcing the savior, literally, to be goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who thwarted TFC with several brilliant stops among his 10 saves.

A late call-up to replace the injured Ching stripped away Rapids forward Conor Casey, yet still Colorado struck with a late goal at Rio Tinto Stadium to come home with a 1-1 tie. Jacob Peterson took the spot up front normally occupied by Casey, whose regular partner, Omar Cummings, drilled a spectacular goal into the roof of the net to earn the point despite Colorado being outshot, 18-9.

The Rapids are off this week, so Confederation Cup-bound Casey might miss just one more league match, a June 20 home date with D.C. United. Given the choice, which he apparently was by U.S. coach Bob Bradley, Rapids coach Gary Smith would rather lose Casey now than next month during the Gold Cup, for which Cummings will probably be summoned by Jamaica. The status of Pablo Mastroeni, though, for the Gold Cup has yet to be determined.

Chicago lost its second straight home game in the absence of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, 1-0, to Houston, yet limited the Dynamo to just five shots despite also missing defenders Bakary Soumare and Gonzalo Segares as well as the injured Wilman Conde. Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko conjured up enough offensive spark to earn at least a tie, but Mulrooney headed away a goal-bound Nyarko shot from underneath the crossbar and his teammates pulled off several crucial defensive plays to deny the Fire.

The conflicts and compromises inflicted by international competitions are just beginning. Chivas USA, New England, Chicago and Kansas City are about to start up their commitments in the SuperLiga, more than two dozen MLS players will be called up for the Gold Cup in July, and the start of Concacaf Champions' League group play for Columbus, Houston, D.C. United and New York, and perhaps Toronto, gets rolling in mid-August.

With domestic and international transfer windows open for much of the summer, radical changes in personnel and performance are likely during the next few months. Which teams consistently crank out results, and which hit sharp dips in form, will give some clues as to how the 2009 playoffs may play out.


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