Hot temperatures, cool customers
no problem -- might need to come out after 70 as the mercury rises. Several backs who normally streak up the sideline on 40-yard sprints to join the attack have to pick and choose their moments during the dog days of summer. Goalkeepers would rather be caught in a pink or baby blue jersey than something all black.
Dehydration becomes a factor, as well. A major factor, actually. It gets so hot that youth matches -- even in the national championships -- stop once a half so that everyone can get a rinse. Same goes for the referees, too. If you don't drink enough water, forget it -- you're toast. Yet, if you guzzle down too much, you'll vomit all over the field. You might not see it, but it happens. Every match.
Without a doubt, the game changes in the summer. It tends to open up more, as more mistakes are made. Add that to the coast-to-coast travel that starts to take its effect, and it's a phenomenon that no other league in the world has to deal with. The top leagues -- the English Premier League, Serie A in Italy, Spain's La Liga and the German Bundesliga -- are off during the summer months, so players in such leagues hardly have to brave the heat at the beginning and end of their respective seasons the way professionals in Major League Soccer do. Of course, MLS has a much longer offseason to recover, so no one is about to call it a much more grueling experience.
With the humidity already making its presence felt in the East Coast cities and 90-degree temps being registered at each of the 10 venues around the league, I consulted Peter Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau to see which players have made their marks during this time. Here's a look at 10 players who have a history of doing well during July and August:
Mark Chung, Colorado Rapids -- Now in his ninth year in the league, the 34-year-old midfielder has totaled 122 matches during the spring and fall playing for Kansas City, the MetroStars and the Rapids. In that time, he's totaled 17 goals. In the summer months, Chung's production level has been an entirely different story, as he's scored 34 goals in 118 matches. Last year, he led all players with seven goals during July and August while Colorado made a run to the playoffs. For the Rapids to stay with Los Angeles and Kansas City, something tells me he'll have to produce at a similar level this summer.
Ante Razov, Chicago Fire -- Since 1998, no player in MLS has scored more goals in July and August than Razov, as his 23 tallies outdistances Preki, Stern John and Raul Diaz Arce, who all have 20. Growing up in Los Angeles and playing his college ball at UCLA surely has prepared him for playing in the highest of temperatures.
Frankie Hejduk, Columbus Crew -- You think the sun bothers him? C'mon now. When you're in the type of shape that Hejduk is in, the hotter it gets the better, as he knows that others will die down long before he runs out of gas. His secret weapon? Perhaps all that cereal he is known to carry around with him whenever he's not on the field.
Andy Williams, Chicago Fire -- Known more for his dazzling skills and playmaking abilities, this Jamaican international's play cannot be judged on goalscoring alone. But it's hard not to notice that Williams has never found the back of the net during the fall months (8 non-playoff matches) and has only scored one goal in 55 spring matches, yet has tallied 11 times in 66 matches during the summer months. Dave Sarachan probably could care less whether he scores his first goal of the season over the next two months as long as he keeps up his stellar play in the midfield (a team-high five assists) that could very well earn him an All-Star berth later this week.
Cobi Jones, Los Angeles Galaxy -- Like Hejduk, his fitness definitely plays a role in his success during the summer over the years. Since 1998, he has the second most points (63) behind just Preki during July and August. That's impressive considering he's missed several matches during this time on U.S. national team duty. Now in a more supporting role to the likes of Carlos Ruiz, Jovan Kirovski and Andreas Herzog, the 34-year-old midfielder's pace, experience and endless motor should help the Galaxy defend its slim lead in the West as the summer unfolds.
Taylor Twellman, New England Revolution -- The side's main scoring weapon could return to action as early as this weekend, which will be a sight for sore eyes considering the Revs have slipped into last place in the East. Last year, Twellman led all scorers in July and August with 16 points, which included six goals. His work rate remains the same whether it's 20 degrees and snowing at Gillette Stadium or 95 degrees and muggy.
Carlos Ruiz, Los Angeles Galaxy -- The Little Fish is one of those strikers who always appears out of energy. Yet, just when a defender catches himself resting for a moment and gives him space to work with, Ruiz springs to life and tears the heart out of the defense with a brilliant goal. Since joining the league in 2002, the Guatamalan forward has scored 18 goals during July and August, including six last year when L.A. started coming to life after a dreadful start in the spring. His strong play in the summer months continued last weekend when he scored two goals to beat San Jose in a highly-contested match.
Jason Kreis, Dallas Burn -- Having played in Big D since the league's first season in 1996, Kreis knows all about hot summers in Dallas. You could practically cook a cheese omelette on that gawd-awful blue turf around the goalmouth during last season's sabbatical at a local high school stadium. Major League Soccer's all-time regular season goal scorer didn't waste any time establishing his summer dominance by tallying five goals in July of '96 to take home Player of the Month honors. The 31-year-old striker has totaled 15 goals and 46 points in July and August since 1998. Judging by his goals in each of the past two weekends, he's back to his old form again after suffering a torn ACL last August.
Jeff Cunningham, Columbus Crew -- His 50 points in July and August since 1998 ranks seventh among all players. Growing up in Montego Bay, Jamaica, it's the early spring and late fall parts of living in Columbus that he's had to get used to, not the high temperatures. Now that running mate Edson Buddle is healthy, Cunningham is poised for another big summer of scoring goals for the resurgent Crew.
Preki, Kansas City Wizards -- Talk about a wild card. No matter what the scenario, it's hard to imagine that any team in the league will acquire a player that will have the impact that the 41-year-old maestro could have upon his return to the Wizards this month after fracturing his fibula and dislocating his ankle during the winter break. No player in MLS has registered more points in July or August since 1998 than Preki's 68. That includes 20 goals, which is second among active players (trailing Razov) during that span. He totalled 12 points and three goals during the summer months last year en route to winning the Budweiser Scoring Championship and Honda MVP honors. Whether he plays in eight matches over the next two matches or just appears just once as a second-half substitute for Bob Gansler, his left foot could have a lasting effect on the team's 2004 campaign.
Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.