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Davis: The joy of settled defense

especially for a side bearing down on its first playoff appearance since 2005.

In southern California, all the talk may be about Sacha Kljestan's re-emergence from some kind of mysterious hibernation. He had two goals in a win against Toronto over the weekend. Last year that would have amounted to a minor sidebar. But as those were his first two strikes of 2009 (and as it's late August!) it qualifies as major news for the Red-and-White.

But it can't be ignored that Chivas USA finally got the same back line together for consecutive matches, with Mariano Trujillo, Carey Talley, Jonathan Bornstein and recently healed Ante Jazic now on the job in Carson. The central role is still something new for Bornstein, but having the same fellows on either side of him is surely assisting the transition. Saturday's clean sheet was the second in a row for Preki's men, who have posted consecutive 2-0 victories and appear back on firm footing after that wildly rickety July.

San Jose was able to line up the same back four for a third consecutive outing, with Chris Leitch, Brandon McDonald, Jason Hernandez and Bobby Convey (right to left) set up to protect goal at Buck Shaw. The offense is still clearly a work in progress, but a late Chris Wondolowski strike helped exploit a lot of good work in the back in the Earthquakes' 1-0 win at home over Kansas City.

Of course, having the same group along the back line isn't the be-all, end-all. United have been pretty consistent in MLS matches with Bryan Namoff, Dejan Jakovic and Marc Burch. And yet, Tom Soehn's men are 1-3-4 in MLS lately.

TACTICAL CORNER

• Leo Gonzalez, recently added to Seattle's roster, is adding to the Seattle attack, even if it didn't pay off at home against the Revolution last week. As the Costa Rican international gets more familiar with his team, he should be better and better at combining with Steve Zakuani along the Sounders' left side. And that's going to cause all manner of trouble for opposition right-siders.

• Also at Seattle, Osvaldo Alonso had one of his best matches for Seattle since returning from injury earlier this summer. Against New England, he looked once again like the midfield force he was in the season's first two months. On the other hand, he was missing Freddie Ljungberg, who provides such a valuable and dependable outlet and link from the midfielders to the forwards. Against Houston on Sunday, almost every productive attack for Sounders FC went through Ljungberg at some point.

• The Richie Williams interim era at Red Bull New York began in a 4-4-2 look, with Seth Stammler and Albert Celades in central roles. Celades was outstanding ... although to be fair, he was playing well in spurts earlier this year for deposed manager Juan Carlos Osorio, albeit far too infrequently as injuries limited his time through much of the spring and summer. Leo Krupnick entered the match for Celades in the 66th minute Sunday, as the Red Bulls held a tenuous lead over FC Dallas. It was clearly a defensive replacement. Later, Jorge Rojas and Mac Kandji were introduced as offensive-minded replacements, as Williams went looking for the game-winner after Dallas had leveled matters on Dave van den Bergh's screamer.

• Chris Cummins re-aligned his TFC squad once again in a 4-4-2 after lining up with three in the back a week ago (due mostly to injuries and suspensions.) In the latest arrangement, Dwayne De Rosario set up as a left-sided midfielder, with Carl Robinson and Amado Guevara stationed centrally. Of the trio of debuting, rookie starters in TFC's lineup last week, only center back Emmanuel Gomez was back in the lineup for Round 23, as circumstances fell right for the young Gambian to get a second consecutive assignment in the starting 11.

• On the other side Saturday at The Home Depot Center, Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan started as a left midfielder for Chivas USA. Debuting starter Jesus Padilla was slotted into Kljestan's more familiar spot along the right side. Kljestan is typically given a lot of freedom to drift inside and create, so in a lot of ways it doesn't matter where he starts off. Besides, as little has gone right for Kljestan this year, a change certainly couldn't hurt. (And since Kljestan scored twice, it certainly didn't seem to hurt him.)

• Padilla's debut was a quiet one for Chivas USA, as he rarely found a way to make much noise in the attack. Then again, he's had De Rosario to deal with on his side, so it might have been a night when defense was always going to be paramount.

• Still searching for solutions at Kansas City, interim manager Peter Vermes put out a very experienced attack at Buck Shaw Stadium against San Jose. Herculez Gomez, at 27 years of age, was Vermes' youngest starter in midfield or at striker. (The others were Santiago Hirsig, Jack Jewsbury and Claudio Lopez in the midfield, with Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud up front.) Vermes has Kansas City setting up in a straight-line midfield, as opposed to the diamond formation preferred by former manager Curt Onalfo. Hirsig and Jewsbury are lining up centrally at the moment, flanked by Gomez and Lopez. But since Kansas City has yet to score in two matches under its interim boss, that could certainly change soon.

• For Sunday's home contest against Colorado, Chicago manager Denis Hamlett made just three changes after suffering the home loss to begin a busy Round 23 in MLS. His faith in the majority of the team ultimately paid off, as timely subs helped the Fire rally spectacularly to overturn Colorado's two-goal lead in Bridgeview.

• Jay Heaps' outstanding season continues at New England. Although he got official credit for only one of the assists in New England's 3-1 win against Real Salt Lake, he supplied long passes that lead to both of the Revs' first-half goals.

• Real Salt Lake debuting starter Rachid El Khalifi had very little to say about Sunday's contest outside Boston, where the Lakers lost to Steve Nicol's men. The new Dutch winger was removed in the 57th minute for Pablo Campos.

Steve Davis is a freelance writer who has covered Major League Soccer since its inception. Steve writes for www.DailySoccerFix.com and can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.