Connolly: Thought bubbles

This scene at The Home Depot Center happened just three months ago.

Photo Credit: 
Tony Quinn/MLS/WireImage.com

almost three weeks before MLS Cup was played -- and their pitchers and catchers aren't reporting for spring training until Thursday, and you'll see just how short the MLS offseason is.

The whistle is blown for a foul 22 yards from goal. It's a free kick for Real Salt Lake. You have Clint Mathis, Jason Kreis and Andy Williams instinctively walking over toward the ball. Who takes it? If it were going to be a shot, I'd want Mathis, as the replay of the U.S.-Honduras match is hard to get out of my memory bank. If it were going to be a chipped serve, I'd want Williams. (These are the things that keep me up late at night, unfortunately.)

I'm dying to see how the following players fare over the course of an entire season in 2005: Christian Gomez, Danny Szetela, Andy Herron and Avery John.

If you're looking for good, old-fashioned position battles, look no further than the Chicago Fire. For a side that didn't make the playoffs last year, it's shocking to realize some of the players who could find themselves coming off the bench at times this season. We know that Zach Thornton, Jim Curtin, Tony Sanneh, Chris Armas and Damani Ralph are safe. After that, you have a rung of players like Justin Mapp, C.J. Brown and Andy Herron who appear to be set in the starting XI, yet have teammates breathing down their necks for playing time. After that, it truly is anyone's guess. The following 13 players have to be fit into the three remaining spots: Kelly Gray, Chad Barrett, Will John, John Thorrington, Craig Capano, Ivan Guerrero, Samuel Caballero, Nate Jaqua, Logan Pause, Jesse Marsch, Jack Stewart, Leonard Griffin and Thiago. And that's not naming everyone. Think their reserve team will fare well? Yeah, me too.

Somewhat endearing moment of the week: Watching Clint Dempsey commandeer my laptop for five quick minutes last Tuesday night to e-mail his brother with the news that he'd be dressing for the U.S. against Trinidad & Tobago. Before leaving Miami, the young Revolution midfielder was almost certain he wouldn't be named to the 18-man game-day roster.

Now that April Heinrichs has resigned as head coach of the women's national team, don't be surprised if the U.S. Soccer Federation calls former Boston Breakers head coach Pia Sundhage right away. The former Swedish star is currently coaching back in her home country for KIF Örebro. Before the Olympics, Heinrichs offered Sundhage the head assistant job, but she turned it down since she had recently signed to coach in Sweden. In addition to Sundhage, former women's national team coach Tony DiCicco will surely be in the mix to take over a side that is currently on a bit of a break before it begins training in preparation for the 2007 Women's World Cup.

Somewhat endearing moment of the week part deux: Drew Carey posing for a photo with Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Joe Cannon in the lobby of the Port of Spain Hilton down in Trinidad. This wasn't a case of Cannon wanting to take a photo with a celebrity, but rather the other way around, as Carey caught the soccer bug a few years back. The night before the U.S. vs. T&T match, the former TV sitcom star and his brother hung out with Bruce Arena and several U.S. Soccer staff members at the lobby bar. No longer sporting glasses and with bleached blond hair that made him almost unrecognizable, Carey and Arena looked like long-lost chums, as they spent several hours sharing stories and talking about soccer.

And no, Carey wasn't the only celebrity in Trinidad. Anthony Anderson of Me, Myself and Irene fame and Gabrielle Union (Bring It On) were both staying at the team hotel. When approached by national team press officer Michael Kammarman, Anderson knew all about the match, but had to miss it since he had committed to a celebrity golf tournament in Tobago on the afternoon of the match.

I'm hearing that Suffern High School (N.Y.) and PDA senior defender Erik Hort, who committed to St. John's, is currently training with Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic in hopes of hooking on with the club and bypassing college soccer. Hort was a Youth All-American this past year and was at the adidas ESP camp for the top high school-aged players in the country this past July.

Judging from all of the e-mails I got about the over-unders for this upcoming season, the majority of you think that Ante Razov will score more than 8.5 goals; Eddie Johnson will be the first player to record a hat trick in 2005; Dema Kovalenko will get more than 1.5 red cards; Club Deportivo Chivas USA will win more than 7 times at home this season; the New England Revolution will lose more games than the Chicago Fire; and Jeff Cunningham will score fewer than 10 goals.

Not to say that the national team has lacked personality the past few years, but the current roster that included guys like Joe Cannon, Jimmy Conrad, Marcus Hahnemann and the return of Ben Olsen seemed to change the feel of the group. Cannon and Conrad have long been two of the more talkative, not to mention comedic, players in MLS, while Hahnemann quickly seemed to take on the role of class clown within the bunch in a Kevin Millar sort of fashion.

If you were intrigued by the play of Atlanta Silverbacks midfielder Leslie Fitzpatrick, who wants to play in MLS, as well as Marlon Rojas (Real Salt Lake) and Cornell Glen (FC Dallas) during the U.S. vs. T&T match last week, make sure to keep an eye on two future Soca Warrior players who are in college: Makan Hislop (South Carolina) and Julius James (Connecticut). Hislop, a versatile player who can play as an outside back, central defender or in the midfield, is the captain of Trinidad & Tobago's U-20s that lost to the U.S. during FIFA World Youth Championship qualifying last month. He's going into his junior season next fall. James, a freshman this past season, is a smooth center back who was named to the All-Big East second team. He'll be a sure-fire candidate for a Generation adidas contract in the coming year or two.

If Bradley is ditching the First XI format, I'm officially going to offer up allocation money and a supplemental pick -- in this year's fantasy draft, no less -- for the rights to it. Tino and Greg don't have the cap room.

I'll likely be on hand for the MLS opener when D.C. United take on CD Chivas USA, but the match I really want to see is when the reigning MLS Cup champs host the Revs three weeks later on April 23. If that match packs half the punch that the memorable Eastern Conference Final from last November did, then you'd better go buy your tickets now.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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