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The MLS Wrap: American stars bring best out of each other

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The MLS Wrap: American stars bring best out of each other
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The MLS Wrap: American stars bring best out of each other

It was a match-up only Major League Soccer fans with long memories can remember seeing before. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey squared off Saturday in a clash of the U.S. national team’s best, and most competitive players.

You had to go back more than eight years, to 2005, when Dempsey had long hair, and Bradley actually had hair, to find the two facing off. On Saturday in Seattle we saw the two long-time U.S. teammates going at it over and over. Bradley wasn’t about to take it easy on his fellow member of the High-Priced Americans Club, and both players benefited.

The level of competitiveness in the Sounders-TFC match brought out the best in Bradley and Dempsey. On Saturday, concerns about the two American stars maintaining a high level of play in MLS seemed silly to consider.

Perhaps it is easy to forget that, despite the big-money contract both Bradley and Dempsey signed, they both remain fierce competitors. The duo reached their impressive heights in the game because of that tenacity, desire to win, along with considerable skill.

Bradley and Dempsey won’t meet again this season, barring an MLS Cup clash, but Saturday’s match provided an example of the kind of benefits that bringing so many top American players back to MLS can have.

Dempsey will face another U.S. national team player in two weeks when he takes on Michael Parkhurst and the Columbus Crew, and he will square off against Maurice Edu and the Philadelphia Union in May. All three could be teammates in the USA's pre-World Cup camp.

Bradley will also face similar challenges in the coming weeks. He and Kyle Beckerman will square off in two weeks when TFC faces Real Salt Lake. The former Roma man will also get to take on three of the better young central midfielders in the league in the coming weeks as well, in the likes of Perry Kitchen, Luis Gil and Dillon Powers.

With two months to go before leaving their MLS teams for pre-World Cup camp, Bradley and Dempsey are off to good starts to their respective seasons. Seeing the way they went after each other, and competed, and brought the best out of each other makes it easy to believe that both U.S. national team stars will be just fine as they head toward this summer’s World Cup.

LEAGUE POWERS OFF TO SLOW STARTS

The teams with the top three records in MLS in 2013 were expected to be right back at the top of the league in 2014. Two weeks into the new season, though, Sporting Kansas City, Portland and the New York Red Bulls are a combined 0-2-4.

Is there cause for concern that those three teams have as many combined points as Chivas USA? For Sporting Kansas City, the fact the team is dealing with a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series makes it easy to give the defending champion a pass on an 0-1-1 start.

Portland’s pair of draws are slightly more difficult to figure out considering how many of the team’s pieces are back, plus the addition of some key players. The attack hasn’t quite found its form in the final third, and you could argue that the team misses Rodney Wallace’s dynamism in the attack. The Timbers dominated possession in both draws, but they need to start putting more shots on goal if they are going to get back to their winning ways.

The Red Bulls will point to a highly questionable penalty given to Colorado as cause for their home-opening tie against the Rapids. The reality is Colorado created more dangerous chances and was right there with the Supporters' Shield winners after shaking off a poor first 15 minutes. Mike Petke is still trying to figure out his first-choice starting lineup at the moment, but he’ll need more production from his midfield if the Red Bulls are going to have any chance of coming close to last year’s success.

MLS WRAP WEEKLY AWARDS

Player of the Week: Jermain Defoe. While there were other candidates, such as Victor Bernardez, Mauro Rosales and Matt Hedges to name a few, Defoe’s clinical finishing helped Toronto FC kick off the 2014 season in style.

Team of the Week: Philadelphia Union. Toronto FC was definitely a team to consider for this one, but we’ll give the Union the edge after posting a shutout victory without the services of captain Brian Carroll (illness) and starting right back Sheanon Williams (injured).

Goal of the Week: Kyle Beckerman. The RSL and U.S. national team midfielder helped his team overcome an early deficit with a long-range blast.

Love Tap of the Week: Clint Dempsey's one-hand slap of Mark Bloom’s family jewels left the TFC defender with some soreness and a high-pitched voice, and just might lead to a suspension for Dempsey, who stated after the match he was trying to slap away a hand he felt on his back.

Dive of the Week: Mauro Diaz. The FC Dallas playmaker has shown some impressive skill early in the season, but unfortunately one of this skills has been his ability to sell a dive as a foul. He did it late in FC Dallas’ match against Sporting Kansas City and earned a free kick that led to Matt Hedges’ equalizing goal.

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