Making a difference down the stretch
Kirovski and Andreas Herzog -- to recapture that magic they each seemed to have in the spring and early summer.
Bo Oshoniyi, Kansas City: Don't laugh. You never know about an injury like Achilles tendonitis, which has kept usual starter Tony Meola off the field for the past month. There's a good chance that the longtime MLS backup will have to continue his run that has seen him earn two shutouts and win three of five games for the first-place Wizards. Fortunately for Oshoniyi, he has a defense in front of him that has been stellar in 2004. It also helps the Wizards that two of its remaining four matches come against a Los Angeles squad that hasn't beat them this season.
Jason Kreis, Dallas Burn: He earned his way back into the starting lineup last weekend after coming off the bench the three previous matches. The league's all-time goal-scoring leader needs to put his mark on this season with a throwback performance or two sprinkled in during the final four games. With San Jose just one point back, how the team's longest-tenured player does may be the difference between a playoff berth or yet another postseason spent on the outside looking in.
Alecko Eskandarian, D.C. United: Though Jaime Moreno has been the team's MVP this season, his running mate up top is the one who gets United going. After a rookie season that saw him earn more time on the pine than on the pitch, the University of Virginia product has pumped in 10 goals this year to become the first D.C. player since the immortal Abdul Thompson Conteh to score 10 or more goals in a season. What's been most impressive about Eskandarian's play in 2004 has been his ability to create goals out of nothing, and to be accurate with both feet.
If last year's No. 1 overall draft selection maintains his current momentum during the next month, he may not only help D.C. United earn home-field advantage in its conference semifinal series, but also earn him a shot with the full U.S. national team.
Edson Buddle, Columbus Crew: If he has a four-goal game in him, how can he not be the X-factor down the stretch?
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.