Plenty to be grateful for in MLS

In this week of thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for Major League Soccer, which has just ended its ninth year.

That said, I’m glad this season is finally over. It wasn’t the best of years for the league. The quality of play seems to have reached a plateau, many games come off as bland and there definitely is a shortage of stars. Parity seems to be the operative word, with no team dominating the league and few major players standing out from the masses of hard-working regulars.

The league is certainly going through a transition period, with most of its colorful founding players relegated to the sidelines or retirement. MLS is undoubtedly a young players’ league. Youngsters like Clint Dempsey, Eddie Gaven, Eddie Johnson, Freddy Adu, Brian Carroll, Josh Gros and Alecko Eskandarian are stamping their mark on the game, which bodes well for the future.

But the league lost two of its young stars this season, D.C. United’s Bobby Convey and Chicago’s DaMarcus Beasley, to overseas clubs. Landon Donovan, probably the best player in the league, left after the season for German team Bayer Leverkusen. Donovan will be missed, but he needs a new challenge. Hopefully, it will shape him into a better player for the U.S. national team.

There is some possible good news. American goalie Kasey Keller and forward Clint Mathis could be joining expansion team Real Salt Lake. Expansion team Chivas USA will bring in four Mexican stars next year who will spice up the league.

MLS also will expand its rosters from 24 players to 28, and teams will be allowed four senior international players (an increase from three last season). Flush with money from a 10-year, $150million deal with Adidas, MLS teams will set up reserve teams.

Let’s also be grateful D.C. United turned on its game late in the season and gave its loyal fans something to cheer about in winning its fourth the MLS Cup.

Gratitude also goes to multibillionaire Philip Anschutz for continuing to fund United and four other clubs in the league. Now if only the secretive Anschutz would sit down for an interview.

And thanks goes to the U.S. national team, which reached the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Lest we forget, a big thank you is owed to the U.S. women who battled to win the Olympic gold medal at Athens, led by Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.

Roundup — The Chicago Fire will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for their soccer-specific stadium in Bridgeview, Ill. The 20,000-seat stadium will cost $70million. … The U.S. under-19 team will play Brazil today in the third-place game of the Women’s World Championship in Bangkok. The Americans lost 3-1 in the semifinals to Germany, which meets China in the final.

Champions League — Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson coached his 1,000th game as the Red Devils beat French club Lyon 2-1 on Tuesday. … Dutch power PSV Eindhoven — DaMarcus Beasley’s new team — advanced from the group stage in the Champions League. … Raul Gonzalez scored his 49th goal in Real Madrid’s 1-1 tie with Bayer Leverkusen to equalize the great Alfredo di Stefano’s European Cup goal-scoring record.

In the English Premier League, third-place Everton has won nine games this season as many as the whole of last season, while 15th place Tottenham Hotspur is having its worst start since 1994.

In Asia, Seongnam Ilhwa of South Korea outscored Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad 3-1 in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final in Jeddah this week. The second leg is in Korea on Wednesday.

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