Pavon: O'Brien building his name on U.S. stage

players with international pedigrees. To be included in that group of players this year would permanently change O'Brien's profile, the interest he garners from clubs overseas and perhaps even his marketability as he wraps up his first full season in MLS.

Meanwhile, one player who has been a shoo-in for MVP awards this year now may see his bid go up in smoke. The red card received by Amado Guevara in Sunday's game will force him to miss one game and Honduras national team duty this weekend will likely delay that suspension by an extra game. With only a few games remaining to win over future voters, "El Lobo" just opened a window of opportunity for another player to gain ground -- such as O'Brien.

WESTERN LOGJAM TOUGH TO FIGURE: Don't place too much stock in the newspaper headlines that make reference to the position of any Western Conference team at this juncture in the season. While it may make headlines that the defending champion San Jose Earthquakes are in "last place", they are still just four points from the top spot. Media that continue to stress standings placement are merely providing another example of their lack of insight into the sport as they grapple on to what is a piece of information that sheds very little light on the progress of the season.

With all five teams in the Western Conference bunched up inside four points, the outrage of the first-place Galaxy firing their coach rings hollow. With a slight change of fortune in a few stoppage-time thrillers, Sigi Schmid could easily have been fired as a last-place coach. Then the analysts who wish to wax poetic with heart-wrenching sob stories would have had to fill time and space in other ways.

REVOLUTION'S NICOL CONTINUES TO OVER-COACH: Every week we hear about the record number of injuries and "man games lost due to injury" that the New England Revolution have suffered this season. And no doubt that New England head coach Steve Nicol has had some juggling to do in several games this year. However, the season's series of tactical and personnel changes on Saturday appeared unnecessary.

Pat Noonan moved to the left side of midfield to start -- when left midfielder Brian Kamler came on anyway at the start of the second half. And Nicol chose to start both recently arrived and unfit Steve Howey and Clint Dempsey, who was returning from a broken jaw injury. The team ran out of substitutions in a game in which one more could have meant getting offensive sparkplug Felix Brillant in the match. Howey was in fact subbed at halftime and Dempsey was walking wounded with more than 20 minutes remaining.

A little bit of consistency in a lineup in which Steve Ralston shifts from the back line to midfield within the same game, would likely help forward Taylor Twellman. The leading goal scorer in MLS last year (tied with Carlos Ruiz), scored 14 of his 15 goals when either Ralston or Kamler were playing in midfield.

This year Twellman has had to work in myriad formations and with several players including some formations which have him as the lone forward. The fact that so-called playmaker Jose Cancela is a non-factor (replaced at halftime against D.C. United) has not helped matters. Without Ralston, Kamler or Cancela serving as providers, what can be expected of Twellman? Although he struck the woodwork on two occasions in Saturday's game, Twellman was forced to create something out of nothing both times. Twellman is being a team player when he refuses to bemoan the constant changes in the team.

Also, a partnership with Noonan up top has still not materialized and Twellman has recently used the words "I am starting to figure out Pat Noonan's game" -- this after 14 games of playing alongside one another over two seasons.

Time will tell what kind of tangible improvement Steve Howey will bring to the team compared to the work that defender Avery John was providing. However, the reality is that there are other sectors of the field that could have probably used more immediate help.

PEREZ LEFT HANGING?: It was a game to forget for Chicago Fire left fullback Orlando Perez, who was torched more than one time by Dallas Burn right midfielder Ronnie O'Brien. However, the responsibility of the damage inflicted by O'Brien should not lie entirely on Perez's shoulders.

His colleague on the left flank, Justin Mapp, an attacking player with graceful and breathtaking accelerations, has rarely shown any defensive inclinations and did little to help Perez. Mapp is the heir to DaMarcus Beasley on the left flank. Mapp needs to follow his lead and quickly develop a defensive game, which is arguably the most valuable contribution offered by the equally speedy Beasley.

Yet although some may argue that an attacking player like Mapp should not be burdened with defensive responsibilities, there is no reason both should be mutually exclusive. Mapp's growth in this regard is something to monitor closely in the weeks and months to follow.

BURN CHANGES MAKE THE DIFFERENCE: The Dallas Burn needed change following a recent run of poor performances. Those came this past weekend: (a) Ronnie O'Brien returned to the right side of midfield; (b) Toni Nhleko shared the load with Eddie Johnson up top; (c) Oscar Pareja dictated the tempo and generated possession in midfield; and (d) Jason Kreis and Brad Davis started on the bench. Those four factors combined for a resounding 4-1 victory over the Chicago Fire.

The Burn are still an inconsistent team and Saturday's group is going to have to prove it can duplicate Saturday's performance against the Fire. And if consistency is a trait the team is seeking to develop, forward Toni Nhleko may be the best player to rely on. Of the 18 players in MLS who have scored six or more goals, the South African international has registered the fewest minutes and had not earned a start since July 17 (see chart below).

18 players with six or more goals and minutes played:
1970 min.: 9 goals - Davy Arnaud (KC)
1935 min.: 8 goals - Pat Noonan (NE)
1805 min.: 7 goals - Jaime Moreno (DC)
1800 min.: 10 goals - Damani Ralph (CHI)
1796 min.: 10 goals - Amado Guevara (MET)
1729 min.: 9 goals - Eddie Johnson (DAL)
1625 min.: 6 goals - Josh Wolff (KC)
1594 min.: 11 goals - Brian Ching (SJ)
1588 min.: 6 goals - Landon Donovan (SJ)
1537 min.: 6 goals - Clint Dempsey (NE)
1534 min.: 6 goals - Jovan Kirovski (LA)
1457 min.: 6 goals - Jeff Cunningham (CLB)
1447 min: 7 goals - John Wolyniec (MET)
1394 min.: 11 goals - Carlos Ruiz (LA)
1257 min.: 6 goals - Edson Buddle (CLB)
1183 min.: 7 goals - Alecko Eskandarian (DC)
991 min.: 6 goals - Alejandro Moreno (LA)
903 min.: 6 goals - Toni Nhleko (DAL)

Andy Pavon is a freelance soccer writer taking another perspective on the matches of the past weekend, past the box scores and standings.

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