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The Next XI? Best from MLS’s non-Stars would still be pretty good

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Between active and non-active All-Stars (announced today), 32 of the top players in Major League Soccer get excluded from this exercise. Take out the injured players we’re not allowing ourselves to pick (since that was likely the same restriction facing Peter Vermes and Don Garber), and almost all of the league’s big name get excluded from this exercise.

That exercise? Pick the best Next XI. Choose any formation you want, but you have to be able to justify your pick with more than “I think he can pay that spot.” Other than that, everything’s fair game.

Our XI still doesn’t have room for a number of notable performers, though the likes of Sebastien Le Toux, Nigel Reo-Coker, Brandon Barklage, Diego Chara, and Ned Grabavoy probably deserve some words of praise. Still, at times we went for more than pure first half performance in this one. When things were close, we did weigh things like past performance. It’s all all-star selection, after all.

But with a handful of spots, that kind of tie breaker wasn’t enough to keep some new guys our of our “next XI”:

[GK – 1] Dan Kennedy – With Michael Gspurning out, the Chivas USA man steps in. While Kennedy may not have replicated his stellar form from last season’s first half, he has enough gravitas to justify this pick, though nobody will fault you for wanting Jimmy Nielsen in this spot.

[D – 4] – Chris Klute, Jose Goncalves (pictured), Djimi Traore, Sheanon Williams – Goncalves belongs on the real all-star team, so this was a no brainer. If the Portuguese wasn’t garnering so much attention, more people would be talking about Traoré. Williams’s slow improvement has left him overlooked in PPL Park, while Chris Klute, at this very second, is the league’s best left back. He’s the DeAndre Yedlin of this team, albeit at Seth Sinovic’s expense. We’ll see if the former Atlanta Silverback can keep it up.

[M – 3] – Oriol Rosell, Michel, Marcelo Sarvas –  While some thought Kansas City would take a step back after losing Roger Espinoza (and letting Julio Cesar go), Rosell has brought a different if still highly effective presence to central midfield. Michel has similarly stabilized Dallas, while Marcelo Sarvas has quietly been the Galaxy’s best midfielder.

[AM – 1] – Federico Higuaín – Five goals, six assists, and a big reason why Dominic Oduro’s about to hit double-digits in goals, Higuaín’s the best playmaker that failed to make the all-star team. How he failed to get in there is a good question, but we’re happy to welcome him in our Next XI.

[F – 2] – Alvaro Saborio, Claudio Bieler – Saborio’s time with Costa Rica makes him an easy omission from the festivities at Sporting Park, but coming off a hat-trick in New York, he’s also an easy selection for our XI. The RSL star’s averaging a goal every 108 minutes this year. Bieler was also a straight forward selection, though it does create some interesting questions with our team …

How would Saborio and Bieler work together? Higuaín playing behind two forwards? Would that midfield work?

We’re betting good players find a way to get together, but if not, don’t worry. This team isn’t actually going to play a game together.

Highlights and context: First half explosion fuels Philadelphia win

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You never want to fall behind, let alone the way Columbus did in Philadelphia (a deflection of a long shot wrong-footing Andy Gruenebaum early), but the Crew did themselves no favors over an early, seven minute span that defined Wednesday’ match at PPL Park. Poor defending on crosses by Sebastien Le Toux helped put three goals between teams that could end up battling for fifth in the East, the Union using their 3-0 lead to cruise past Columbus and pull even with Houston and Kansas City.

All three teams have 22 points, though the Dynamo have played the fewert number of games. Potentially more important for Philadelphia, they’re now three points clear of sixth place, a spot occupied by the improving New England Revolution.

Columbus, conversely, miss their chance to jump into fifth, a place they would hold had they won in Philadelphia. Instead, Robert Warzycha’s team sits seventh, two points behind the Revolution.

The slide started in the 25th minute when a speculative shot from Brian Carroll deflected off Eric Gehrig and into the right of goal, Andy Gruenebaum moving the opposite direction before the deflection. Four minutes later, Sheanon Williams slipped his man at the far post on a corner kick, his athletic finish of an open volley doubling Philadelphia’s lead. Two minutes later, Conor Casey beat his man near post on a Le Toux cross, heading home the game’s final goal in the 31st minute.

Perhaps as remarkable as Philadelphia’s first half explosion, Jack McInerney was not involved. The Union striker came into the night with a league-leading 10 goals yet wasn’t apart of his team’s onslaught. Now with 22 goals through 15 games, the Union finally have more non-McInerney goals than Jack Mac specials.

Is the next phase of MLS stadium development upon us?

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We may have only recently arrived at a place where Major League Soccer’s facility situation has reached long-desired stability, but it looks like the next phase in venue development may already be upon us.

It was just 10 years ago that Major League Soccer was still a league of renters, with precious few clubs that had a building to call their very own. In fact, exactly 10 years ago, Crew Stadium in Columbus was the one and only. (The Galaxy’s Home Depot Center opened in June of 2003.)

So in a relatively short amount of time, Major League Soccer’s facility situation has improved enormously. Sixteen of 19 teams perform in facilities build or remodeled specifically for Major League Soccer, the degree to which that has added stability and stature cannot possibly be overstated.

Most of the grounds are of the 20,000-seat variety, which has always been about right. As each structure was pieced together or refurbished over the last 10 years, the planning typically included ability to expand – although that need for “more” always seemed to be in some far-away, distant future.

But is it so far away?

Today comes word that Philadelphia is thinking about expansion. The details are here, courtesy of the Philadelphia Business Journal, but the long and short is that the Union could use more seats and certainly more of those revenue-generating suites at PPL Park.

Not every club is ready to begin thinking “more,” but a few could fill stand to add some seats and suites – and isn’t that something else?

Let’s play “Choose the site for U.S. World Cup qualifiers”

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Five lucky communities will soon be named to host the United States’ final round World Cup qualifiers.

Well, four seriously lucky Louies, plus one that may or may not be quite as fortunate; by the time Jurgen Klinsmann’s men face Jamaica on Oct. 11 (the fifth and final home match), they may already be safely through to Brazil 2014.

If the choosing were mine, here are the five venues where Klinsi and Co. would be heading over the next nine months. (Disclaimer: I know everyone outside of these five places will hate me; the good soccer folks of Seattle and Portland will lead the pitchfork-and-lantern way.)

Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City: Great stadium, great fans who know how to get their “patriotism” on, and there already a history of success there (albeit not a long one.) Jurgen Klinsmann and his players were falling over each other to talk up that place last fall in the semi-final round win, so it’s hard to see how this one won’t be picked.

Red Bull Arena outside New York: Establishing that home field advantage here is more problematic, but it’s New York!  You know, the Big Apple, an iconic symbol of our country and a media center. Plus, if we’re only talking about MLS stadium (I know U.S. Soccer isn’t, but I am), it seats about 5,000 more than most of the league’s grounds. Games against Panama or Honduras in June would be the best chances.

Crew Stadium in Columbus (pictured): Of course Crew Stadium has to be in the mix. Who cares if the place doesn’t have the pretty things and fancy high-tech edges of other, newer grounds. This one has history, and important history, at that. It’s where Mexican ambition has gone to die. How cool is that!  Mexico vs. the United States on Sept. 10? Can we please book it?

PPL Park outside Philadelphia: Let’s show CONCACAF that not all the verbal nastiness is confined to small Central American nations. The brotherly fans in Philly can presumably accomplish that, right?  By the way, why aren’t we thinking of making Costa Rica play there in March? I know it’s not as close to Mexico as the other possibilities already mentioned, but aren’t we just talking about an extra two hours in the air here?

Rio Tinto Stadium outside Salt Lake City, Utah: Two qualifier appearances, two wins, glowing reviews from U.S. players, coaches and staff. There’s a lot to like, including the beautiful stadium. Unless you put one game in Southern California at the Home Depot Center, this will probably be the Western-most venue.

Time running out for Freddy Adu in Philadelphia

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Sometimes the writing on the wall is nothing more than an eight-year-old’s drawings on a dusty car window. Other times, it carries the weight of Mayan prophecy. With Jonathan Tannenwald’s report this morning, we see it’s year 2012 on Philadelphia’s Freddy Adu calendar. The talented attacker may be with the Union beyond this season, but if John Hackworth’s plans play out, it won’t be in a major role:

The Union’s biggest name and most expensive player was not on the gameday roster for Saturday’s season-ending matchup with the New York Red Bulls at PPL Park. But the matter extends deeper than that. According to multiple sources, the Union’s coaching staff intends for Adu to remain off the field for as long as he is on the team’s roster.

None of this should be surprising. Though Adu has received more playing time of late, it was telling how Hackworth used him during the first months of his tenure. After Peter Nowak was fired, Adu slowly starting losing his place in the starting XI. Before long, he was super sub. Then he wasn’t so super. When Hackworth needed to win games, he choosing Freddy Adu. Along the way, it became clear Michael Farfan would be the man at the center of Philly’s attack, not Adu.

It was only after Philadelphia’s 2012 fate was decided that Adu started to creep back into the picture. Was that giving Adu another chance? (Kind of.) Had he earned his place back in the team? (Not really.) Or was Hackworth trying to make a decision regarding the talented 23-year-old’s future? (Probably.) When he was taken off early last Saturday in Houston, Hackworth seems to tip his hand.

That would have been too much to read from one match’s substitution, but as with anything Adu, we’re always left reaching. Each flash of brilliance recalls his once unfairly apportioned promise. Every benching provokes a reflex to rescind. The hype has faded but our embarrassment never will. Everybody will always want more from Freddy Adu.

Where will that more come, if it’s not Philadelphia? Look over Major League Soccer and you see a number of teams that can still use him. Though you’ll hear people caution against being burned by Adu, we’ve reached a point where there’s very little risk to taking him on. Bring Adu in, and he might approach his promise. If he doesn’t, he no longer represents an opportunity loss. You can move on without questions, just as Philadelphia will try to do this winter.

Nine years into his professional career, Adu has become an opportunity to swing for the fences without risking a strike, provided you have room to take him on. As Eddie Johnson’s story shows, talent can be cultivated, and we often give up on it too soon. Adu just needs to find the man who can bring the best out of him.

Who is Adu’s Sigi Schmid? It wasn’t Peter Nowak. It wasn’t John Hackworth.