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Justin Braun: great young U.S. player you may not know about

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Young Chivas USA striker Justin Braun has hit for eight goals this year, carrying the Goats' offense while higher-priced types around him struggle.
Young Chivas USA striker Justin Braun has hit for eight goals this year, carrying the Goats' offense while higher-priced types around him struggle.

There are some pretty good U.S. Soccer supporters out there who know their ins and out of the domestic game; they know their Eddie Johnsons from their Eddie Lewises. But even those armed with a tall stack of knowledge may not know much about Justin Braun.

I thought a lot about that dude last night as I watched Chivas USA take on D.C. United in a match-up of league 2010 also-rans. (One member of an MLS organization I spoke to this weekend called it this week’s “MLS pillow fight.”  I liked that line, so I used it in the comments section of my Power Rankings on the weekly SI.com piece, which should be posted later today is up now. I’m not above that kind of thing, stealing zingers and such. You’ve been warned.)

If it weren’t for Braun, Chivas USA would have zilch on offense. Well, Jonathan Bornstein was pretty good last night, too. But it was mostly Braun.

That dude was an absolute horse. With very, very little help around him, Braun created a few chances for others, provided a consistent target with lively, well-timed runs and hit for the game’s only goal. And what a goal it was! Far as I can remember, the last I saw someone score on a 17-hard header was Thomas Dooley against Germany in a friendly at Soldier Field 16 or 17 years ago.

Here’s the other thought I had regarding Chivas USA and Braun: it’s time for that organization to get it together.

I mean, are they even trying to establish a brand there? (Read on for more about Braun and Chivas USA)

Chivas USA is second banana inside the Home DepotCenter. Everyone associates that place with the Galaxy, and rightly so.

Former U.S. national team coach Steve Sampson, who lives in the Southern California area, told me a few months ago that Chivas USA was closer than people know to getting its own stadium scene going. Let’s hope he right.

Otherwise, it’s a team that fairly consistently loses its promising young stars. Brad Guzan? Gone. Sacha Kljestan? Gone. Jonathan Bornstein? He will be gone at the next transfer window, bound for Tigres in Monterrey.

Chivas USA was a playoff team under Preki for the last two years. So what does the Goats’ braintrust do? They let him get away, and now Toronto FC can build with him. Time will tell how that works out. But the point here is that Chivas USA wasn’t a bad team under Preki. True, they couldn’t win a playoff series. But I’d say that had more to do with a lack of difference makers. And that’s down to ownership’s unwillingness to pay for them.

So now back to Braun, who is 23 years old. He’s one helluva a player. Think Brian Ching, only younger, bigger, faster and packing more athleticism.  U.S. manager Bob Bradley fancies him, inviting Braun into the early January camp eight months ago. From what I understand, Braun’s willingness to learn and his ability to absorb knowledge is one of the things Bradley likes so much about him.

The kid is clearly a hard worker. Just watch one Chivas USA match and you’ll know.

But my advice: watch one soon. Chivas won’t make the playoffs this year. And based on history, I just don’t know how long Braun will be around these parts.