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The West is best in MLS
by Ridge Mahoney, May 10th, 2010 2:18AM

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TAGS:  los angeles galaxy, mls, new england revolution, new york red bulls, san jose earthquakes, toronto fc

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[MLS] A crowded eight days of play concluded Saturday with seven games. The Red Bulls fell but the Galaxy is still unbeaten, and FC Dallas – winless a week ago – is on a two-game winning streak. Here are six items of note from the eight matches played in Week 7, when Landon Donovan reminded us of his worth and the Western Conference teams continued its dominance of the East ...

INFLATION. How high will the transfer price for Landon Donovan go if he has a good World Cup, or might the Galaxy decide to keep him around long enough to win another championship?

When the league announced Donovan had signed a new, four-year contract that pays him $2 million a year, Commissioner Don Garber basically abdicated on the league brokering a transfer deal, stating that decision is up to the Galaxy and AEG. The other ownership groups will have their say, of course, but since teams now receive a majority of the transfer fee, they have also been empowered to approve or reject deals as they see fit.

So would AEG prefer to sell Donovan for a league-record transfer fee in the summer, or hold onto him? AEG could choose the latter and sell him during the January transfer window, but history shows many more high-profile deals are consummated during the summer, and especially the summer of a World Cup. The league record of $8-10 million for Jozy Altidore isn’t enough; might it be doubled?

Donovan ratcheted up his price by performing solidly, and at times spectacularly, during a 10-week stint for Everton. He gave a timely, and pricey, reminder of what he means to the Galaxy and MLS by assisting on three goals and scoring the fourth in a 4-0 rout of Seattle on Saturday.

IMBALANCE. The Western Conference sent five teams into the playoffs last year; so far this season, seven of the top nine teams – ranked by points -- are in the West. Western teams swept all three interconference games on Saturday.

How competitive is the West? In last place is Seattle, with nine points at 2-2-3. That would tie them with Toronto FC for third in the East, where only New York (5-2-0, 15 points) and Columbus (3-0-2, 11 points) are better than .500.

There’s a four-way logjam of Western teams in fourth place with 10 points: Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Colorado, and Chivas USA, which is barely under .500 at 3-4-1. And the once-forlorn Earthquakes are third with 12 points (4-2-0): those four wins are exactly half as many games as they won during their expansion year -- like this one a 30-game season -- in 2008. They have beaten Chicago on the road, and New England and New York at home.

So far, Western teams hold a 15-6-6 advantage in head-to-head results against Eastern foes. And yes, the Philly factor has to be considered – the expansion Union is 0-3 vs. the West, all three games on the road – but even so, that still leaves the West well on top at 12-6-6.

ROUGH ROOKIE NIGHT. Defender Tim Ream has been nearly impeccable since stepping right into the Red Bulls back line from the start of the season, but in a 4-0 loss to San Jose with his team down to 10 men for most of the game some of the bloom came off.

In the opening minutes he lost a ball to Chris Wondolowski, who played in Ryan Johnson for a clean shot that keeper Bouna Coundoul smothered. On the Quakes’ second goal, he lost track of a dribbling Joey Gjertsen, who hit a low shot Coundoul should have covered but didn’t. The third goal resulted from Ream playing Ramiro Corrales on-side as he broke down the left wing, and despite marking Wondolowski, Ream couldn’t intercept a centering pass that he tucked into the net.

ZAK ATTACK, PART DEUX. On the plus side, several rookies have hit the net more than once this season, and Zak Boggs of New England – a teammate of Zach Shilawski, who netted a hat trick last month -- joined the club Saturday in a tough 3-2 loss to Columbus. He opened the scoring with a shot from distance that Crew keeper Will Hesmer let slip under his body, and netted again shortly before halftime with a cool finish of a crisp passing sequence.

About 50 friends and family members attended at Crew Stadium to see Boggs net two goals in his first pro start. He grew up in Vienna, West Va., about a two-hour drive from Columbus.

(ZACH AGAIN?) Yes, FC Dallas rookie defender Zach Loyd has started five of seven games. Loyd, Ream and Ike Opara of San Jose are the most impressive first-year players on the back line so far this season.

WORLD CUP FEVER. In the final days before U.S. coach Bob Bradley announces his 30-man player roster, from which the World Cup squad of 23 will be picked, recommendations have been flying in from many MLS cities.

Hard-core lobbying for Edson Buddle (and former MLS-er Herculez Gomez) hasn’t subsided, and calls for Conor Casey, though less strident than last year, persist. Jeff Cunningham and Robbie Findley, along with Casey the darlings of last year, don’t seem to be in the mix yet a thin corps of forwards keeps their names popping up. Fire striker and three-time World Cup veteran Brian McBride’s name has been mentioned, though he’s not been in good form and didn’t really make much of an impact at the 2006 tournament, after which he announced his retirement from the national team. Details, details. But since he accepted an invitation to play in the 2008 Olympics, he’s a candidate.

Players with national team experience, though not much recently, get mentioned as well. Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Bobby Convey, the beat goes on.

RETURN OF 'EL GATO.' He’s not quite as razor-sharp of reflex as during his Galaxy days, when fans likened his quickness to that of a cat. A prolonged departure from Kansas City – for which he’d played every minute of the 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons – and a rough outing in a 4-2 U.S. Open Cup loss away to D.C. United cast a shadow on the future for Kevin Hartman.

Pitted against United again Saturday in a league rematch at Pizza Hut Park, with a backline revamped due to the suspension of left back Jair Benitez, Hartman stoned D.C. on several occasions, including a superb double-save on Christian Castillo and Danny Allsopp. He got some help from the woodwork, too, as he earned his second shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory, and upped his all-time league marks in victories (148) and shutouts (86).



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