Connolly: Young players get their shot
It's time for Freddy and everyone else to put the World Youth Championship in the past. For D.C. United to get on a roll and make some noise once again just like it obviously did during last year's MLS Cup-winning season, they will need the 16-year-old at his best. When he is on, Adu is a handful, as his speed and willingness to attack either down the middle of the field or along the left flank present matchup problems for defenders. The key for Adu is getting enough time to get comfortable and get his head completely into the match. With Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta gone with the U.S. national team for the next few weeks, he'll get just that. Now it's up to him to do something with it.
Arturo Alvarez, FC Dallas -- Remember this guy? It's almost easy to forget about the 20-year-old striker with all the stars in Dallas these days. Since Carlos Ruiz is gone with the Guatemalan national team for the time being and Eddie Johnson is still ailing from turf toe, the former San Jose Earthquakes winger will be counted on to score goals. So far so good, as his fourth-minute strike on July 2 against San Jose got his side off and running in a hard-fought 2-2 tie at the Cotton Bowl.
Scott Buete, Chicago -- It hasn't been the easiest of rides for the former Maryland star. Since being drafted as the Fire's top selection in January of 2004, the 24-year-old has only started in 10 matches. Now that Chris Armas is with the U.S. national team, he'll be able to string a few games together in the middle of the field and look to contribute to a side that is starting to come alive in the Eastern Conference.
Francisco Gomez, Chivas USA -- Hey, you have to take advantage of whatever opportunities you can. And for Gomez, that means playing as a center back for the time being between Armando Begines and Ezra Hendrickson due to the release of Ryan Suarez and with Douglas Sequiera with the Costa Rican national team. The former Kansas City Wizards midfielder had only started seven of 16 matches before moving back to play as a defender on July 2 in the 1-0 loss against Chicago. By playing well in the back, it could vault him into the lineup as a midfielder once Sequiera is back and the new Chivas USA signings are settled in.
Ned Grabavoy, Los Angeles -- Coming out of preseason training last spring, it appeared as though this Indiana University product would play a huge role for the Galaxy as a rookie. But as Andreas Herzog got himself into shape and played magnificently in the first half of the year, it limited his play. Unfortunately for Grabavoy, the coaching change in August from Sigi Schmid to Steve Sampson didn't help his cause either, as his playing time decreased even more. In total, he played in 15 of 30 matches last year. This year, it's been even more difficult for him to get time with the infusion of several international players, as well as Landon Donovan. With Donovan out of the picture for the next weeks, the former U.S. Under-20 national team standout can up his stock to either play for Sampson or get traded another team in the league that needs a level-headed central midfielder.
Ryan Kelly, Columbus -- The Crew have to be feeling good about themselves after getting Kelly three rounds into the Supplemental Draft. Now that Frankie Hejduk is with the U.S. national team, the former St. John's standout is getting a chance to start, going 78 minutes in the 1-0 loss to D.C. United on July 2. Should he impress Greg Andrulis, the versatile Kelly could find himself playing more on the left side once Hejduk returns to the Crew.
Danny O'Rourke, San Jose -- After starting in the team's first eight matches of the season, the rookie out of Indiana University didn't see the field for seven consecutive games after a bad first half against the Galaxy on May 21. Now that both Brad Davis and Dwayne De Rosario are with the U.S. and Canadian national teams respectively, O'Rourke finally got a place on the field in the 2-2 draw against FC Dallas on July 2. As a central midfielder partnered with third-year player Ricardo Clark, O'Rourke will likely see time in the next four matches before the midfield situation starts getting crowded again after the All-Star break.
James Riley, New England -- You're not going to see a lot of the field when you play behind Steve Ralston. The rookie out of Wake Forest is versatile enough to play on both flanks and in the back, which has allowed him to already play in 11 of 15 matches. Yet, there's no mistaking that his role as a wide player serving in balls to Taylor Twellman will be much more important now that Ralston, Clint Dempsey and Pat Noonan aren't leading the attack. That being the case, his play has to be much better than what he showed in the 1-1 draw against Los Angeles on Monday.
Scott Sealy, Kansas City -- The rookie striker has played alongside Josh Wolff at times this season, so it's not as though the U.S. national team forward has been the main reason he's only started in eight matches. At the same time, not having Wolff around for what could be another 2 1/2 weeks should the U.S. make it to the Gold Cup final on July 24 will provide the Trinidad & Tobago international up to four matches to get his game in gear and add to his totals of two goals and one assist in 14 matches.
Khano Smith, New England -- The league's first player from Bermuda has only shown flashes of brilliance in the 10 matches he has played for the Revs this year. If he wants to continue to play a role for the Eastern Conference leaders, he'll have to make his mark over the next two weeks, as the combo of Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan is not going anywhere. The 6-foot-3 striker will be helped by the fact that he's playing alongside a tireless worker in Twellman and in front of a midfield that always seems to provide proper service no matter who is away on international duty.
Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.