Here are two words that should erase last week's insulting comments from former Union possibility Robert Pires.

Fabio Cannavaro.

Recent reports in the Italian press have the 36-year-old defender entertaining offers from teams in Major League Soccer. Namely, the Los Angeles Galaxy, Red Bull New York and the Union are said to be vying for the service of Cannavaro, Italy's all-time caps leader (132), its captain during the World Cup championship run of the Azzurri in Germany 2006 and its captain yet again at the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.

Team manager Peter Nowak wouldn't go on record as saying the team is pursuing Cannavaro, but flashed that winning smile that has become customary when rumors have the makings of becoming truth and surmised, "This is big news, this is a big player."

Cannavaro, the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year, announced earlier this month his intent to retire from international competition following the World Cup, and noted that while he would like to stay in Italy, he understands that may not be a reality.

"I'm a captain without a contract," Cannavaro told the Canadian Press Monday at his national team's training camp in the Italian Alps. Cannavaro's contract at Italian powerhouse Juventus wasn't renewed at the end of the season. "At my age I'm able to handle these things. Anyhow, usually players don't get to decide when they retire. I would like to keep playing, but after the World Cup I'll be nearly 37. If I get a chance to play for a club, great; if not, we'll see."

With the recent expansion of three designated player tags in MLS, the Union could scoop up its first in Cannavaro just in time for July's summer transfer window, which expires about a week after the World Cup concludes. Sources close to the Union's DP situation also told the Daily News that obtaining forward Carlos Ruiz "is in the works." Ruiz, 30, has been an MLS journeyman, but has 82 goals in 137 appearances. In addition to his 16 postseason goals (in 17 appearances), Ruiz holds the record for the most postseason goals in the history of league.

Stay tuned.

SALINAS' 'STAR' QUALITY

It wasn't that many weeks ago when Shea Salinas was an afterthought. Sparse appearances early in the season while nursing a quadriceps strain suffered in preseason left Salinas on the outside looking in - literally - at becoming a mainstay on the Union roster.

"When I had to leave [preseason training in] Mexico because of my injury, I missed a lot of key training sessions but more importantly I missed a lot of time to bond with the team," he said. "But that rehab time plus getting sent to [PDL side] Harrisburg [on loan] really helped my confidence."

It was the first time since his yearlong stint in 2008 with San Jose that Salinas, 23, played a full 90 minutes. Since his return to the full team, he has been utilized at both the right and left midfield position in addition to both wingbacks. His dexterity has enabled Salinas to go from a situational player to one of the team's most valuable utility men.

"Shea's most important ingredient is not just his versatility but his mentality," Nowak said. "He doesn't care where he plays, he just wants to play. He doesn't need to be a star. If every player on this team gets the same mentality as Shea, I'd be a happy guy."

According to the game notes for tomorrow's game at Houston, Salinas is a probable starter at forward. If that did happen, it would mark his fifth position in as many weeks. It's apparent that having the opportunity to play as a professional trumps the ego professionals usually have.

"It's definitely a positive for me that they can play me anywhere, it gives more chances to get on the field," he said. "I think Peter knows I have the stamina to go up and down so I am happy he knows I am always ready."

As far as his favorite position, Salinas added:

"I thought I would hate playing in the back, but you have a lot of space and a lot of time on the ball. I am trying to get a little more aggressive defensively [being a natural midfielder], but I enjoy learning the position. But I don't have a favorite position; [if I had to choose one, I'd say] my favorite position is being on the field."

TEXAS TWO-STEP

The Union faces its second straight opponent from the Lone Star State when it visits Houston, led by forward Brad Davis. Davis, 28, leads the Dynamo with three goals and four assists in 10 games. Goalkeeper Pat Onstad (1.11 goals-against average), like FC Dallas' Kevin Hartman, poses a tough task. Onstad is a clean-sheet king and still remains the all-time MLS leader in GAA (1.05).

But the real story will be the play of Brian Ching. Ching, 32, was one of seven on the preliminary roster left off the U.S. national team's World Cup roster on Wednesday. Interesting to see how that will impact his game tomorrow night.

"It's going to be a good battle for us, but we have to challenge them and make them play our game," Nowak said. "I really think we will have to keep a close mark on Brian Ching. I just really think he will be extra motivated in this game to prove that being left out of the World Cup was a mistake."

SHOTS ON GOAL

Upcoming game

Union (1-5-1) at Houston Dynamo (5-4-1)

When: Tomorrow, 8:30 p.m.

Where: Robertson Stadium, Houston

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

On the web: Streaming webcast on MLSSoccer.com

For kicks: Houston is one of the more inconsistent teams in the league, given it has not been able to put together a streak of any kind. It is coming off a 2-0 win over D.C. United, but in the month of May the Dynamo is 3-2-0, alternating between wins and losses ... Forward Brian Ching, 32, was a member of the U.S. national team's 30-man preliminary World Cup roster but failed to find a spot in coach Bob Bradley's final 23 ... Houston was where Union forward Alejandro Moreno got his start. He made 33 appearances (29 starts) and was a member of the Dynamo's 2006 MLS Cup champion squad.

INJURY REPORT

Probable for the Union: Toni Stahl, MF (left knee strain)

Out for the Dynamo: Geoff Cameron, MF (right knee)

HE SAID IT

"I don't have a favorite position; my favorite position is being on the field." - Union utility man Shea Salinas on playing four positions this season.