Well-deserved victories?

save perhaps for the Los Angeles Galaxy, whose 4-1 scoreline against the Dallas Burn was still aided by two goals where a defender applied the final touch over the line (although only one was officially ruled an own goal) and a penalty kick late in stoppage time.

But the fact that these wins were mediocre, to say the least, is not just opinion. Here is a sampling of quotes from the locker rooms of the winning teams this weekend:

"I am not happy about the soccer in the second half. We didn't do well. We didn't play the way I wanted ... we got lucky (on the penalty kick). Today the soccer part wasn't good, but the result was all right, so from this point maybe something will change." -- D.C. United head coach Peter Nowak, after his team defeated New England 1-0.

"Tonight wasn't pretty but we're getting results." -- Columbus Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch, a 1-0 victor against San Jose.

"It could have easily been 2-0 at one point with all the chances they had. But we were able to get a break ... although I haven't seen the goal yet ... but sometimes the ball bounces the right way for your team." -- Chicago Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring, who won 1-0 against the Colorado Rapids.

"I thought that in some stretches we were able to connect and move the ball well enough that we created some opportunities, but that's still something that can be better." -- MetroStars head coach Bob Bradley after his club's 1-0 win against the Kansas City Wizards.

"We moved the ball well at times. There is still some work to be done. In the second half, we could have held the ball a lot better." -- Galaxy forward Jovan Kirovski.

It is not a coincidence that all five of the weekend's matches lacked convincing winners. But why is that? There are no shortage of reasons, but here are standouts:

• Parity: There are no really good teams or really bad teams in MLS, which is not necessarily a good thing.

• Motivation: At some junctures of matches the lack of energy is so obvious that one is left to wonder what the teams are actually playing for.

• Tactical conservatism: There are several teams whose first concern is to destroy rather than build even in a league where the margin of error is great (a 30-game season where eight teams make the playoffs).

• Media and fan pressure: Whether you win ugly or pretty does not matter at this point in the history of MLS and never have we seen a newspaper column or fan protest against a team's style of play -- or lack thereof.

One soccer writer this week was praying for a dominant team to finally emerge in MLS. We have come to that.

To the rescue: A week ago, the focus was on the glut of forwards on D.C. United. Now the opposite side of the spectrum is clear with the New England Revolution, where head coach Steve Nicol and his coaching staff chose to make only a handful of additions to their squad over the offseason.

Now, with Taylor Twellman seemingly suffering a debilitating hamstring injury, they may have to pay for not bolstering a forward corps which was constituted by an injury-prone Joe-Max Moore, a converted midfielder in Pat Noonan -- and once also by Chris Brown, before his trade to San Jose. When Twellman went out late in the weekend match, Nicol's option was to partner Noonan with Clint Dempsey -- who had claimed a starting role in defensive midfield as a rookie.

The only other real possibility is speedy Felix Brillant, who has impressed with his pace out wide, but is still far from a tested commodity. There could be some long times ahead for the Revolution faithful as an already struggling attack now has even fewer places to turn to for goals.

Another decision for Nowak: Blundering performances led to the goalkeeping situation at D.C. United resolving itself with Troy Perkins commanding the starting spot. And D.C.'s forward corps and their lack of goal production has also made it easy on Nowak, who has given an opportunity to every one of his attackers to prove himself -- which only Jaime Moreno has seized.

But with the return of Dema Kovalenko from the Hristo Stoitchkov testimonial match in Barcelona over the weekend, Nowak will be faced with a tough decision. The five-man midfield in last Saturday's victory against New England played well enough to earn another shot to start the next game in Chicago: Earnie Stewart, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros and Bobby Convey. All five are untouchables whether it is due to their talent or the tactical equilibrium they bring to this critical sector of the field.

For the first time since his first two seasons with the Fire, Kovalenko is facing the real prospect of sitting on the bench for the team's upcoming game because there is no spot for him on the field. The relationship between coach and player (Nowak was Kovalenko's mentor and close friend in Chicago) should not enter into the picture and Kovalenko could see his decision to play in Barcelona cost him dearly in the short-term.

The Ukraine native, who surely could never have expected the sudden rise of the rookie Gros, will surely get his chance again at some point but one hopes that the five midfielders in Chicago on Saturday will all be given a fair opportunity to leave their mark on the match. A quick yank at halftime of an easy target in a young player like Gros in favor of Kovalenko would not go unnoticed.

Andy Pavon is a freelance soccer writer taking another perspective on the matches of the past weekend, past the box scores and standings. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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