Sunday May 1st, 2011

From Omar Salgado's first MLS goal to Frank Yallop's mass benching, here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS action ...

1. Salgado stars in his first MLS start. With Eric Hassli suspended and Atiba Harris out after undergoing knee surgery, the 2011 No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick received his first career MLS start in Vancouver's 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew, and after about 70 minutes of frustration, the youngster left a lasting impression on his full debut.

The 17-year-old Salgado scored on a classy header in between two defenders to open his MLS account, slice Vancouver's 2-0 deficit in half and score the first goal by an opponent at Crew Stadium this season (four games). While veteran Chad Marshall overwhelmed him physically for most of the night, Salgado showed resiliency, persistence and a flash of the potential that made the Whitecaps front-office brass make him the top pick. His confidence grew throughout the game, and he even stood up to Marshall with a retaliated bump that earned a late yellow card.

Considering Hassli's penchant for cards and suspensions and Harris' extended stay on the injured list, it's a luxury for coach Teitur Thordarson to have a burgeoning talent like Salgado at his disposal to pair with Camilo up top as the Whitecaps look to recapture their early-season attacking form.

2. Referees continue to steal the spotlight. Mark Geiger is this the latest referee to leave a bigger stamp on his match than any player.

Geiger made two questionable decisions in the Philadelphia Union's 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes that directly altered the course of the match.

First, he gave a straight red card to Jordan Harvey a few minutes before halftime after an encounter between the Union left back and Earthquakes defender Chris Leitch as both attempted to secure a loose ball. Leitch went to the ground while Harvey's momentum carried him into his counterpart. Harvey appeared to incidentally step on Leitch's chest, while Leitch kicked out at Harvey -- but didn't connect -- in retaliation.

Perhaps both players deserved yellow cards, or perhaps one should have just been whistled for the foul, but for Harvey to be sent off without hesitation seemed harsh and needless and gave San Jose a man advantage for the rest of the match.

Geiger's second call swung momentum the other way as it gifted the Union a penalty kick in the 76th minute. San Jose defender Jason Hernandez left his feet to slide and block an Amobi Okugo cross by the end line, and he appeared to bend his arms into his chest when defending the cross as opposed to extending them from his body to make himself bigger.

Geiger, who does not have the benefit of replay, again showed no hesitation in blowing the whistle, deeming Hernandez to have handled the cross. Sebastien Le Toux converted the ensuing penalty to score his first goal of the season and give the Union all the offense it would need to secure its fourth 1-0 victory of the season.

Geiger is an experienced referee and has a thankless job. More often than not, he'll only be noticed when he does something that most don't agree with, which was the case on Saturday. The fact that his performance comes on the heels of so many other referee blunders only sharpens the focus on the situation. Here's to hoping that more MLS referees go unnoticed and under the radar for the duration of the season.

3. Dwayne De Rosario should supplant Rafa Marquez on Red Bulls set pieces. Marquez has brought plenty of value to the New York Red Bulls since joining the club as a Designated Player last summer. His leadership, experience, distribution in the run of play and stout defending have been a big part of the team's success this year. His set pieces, though, have left much to be desired.

Marquez' delivery off free kicks and corner kicks has been, for the most part, subpar all season. His poorly taken, and consequently saved, penalty in the 15th minute of New York's 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City was the latest in a series of below-average dead-ball moments for the Mexican international. Marquez does deserve credit for springing the play that led to New York's first goal with a quick restart, but that was more about savvy deception than solid delivery.

If only the Red Bulls had another proven set-piece taker, someone with years of experience and delivering in said situations.

Oh, right. That De Rosario guy.

When it comes to corner kicks or free kicks in shooting range, De Rosario should be given the reins. He's a proven commodity in those situations, and considering that Thierry Henry and Marquez have both had penalties saved, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that De Rosario should get a crack at spot-kick duties as well.

New York's offense posted eight goals in its last three games, which is a fine output. While ruffling the feathers of a well-oiled machine in the midst of a three-game winning streak doesn't make a whole lot of sense, there will come a time this season when the Red Bulls need to convert off a set piece in a crucial situation. For every free kick that Marquez hits well, a handful of others are hit too short and don't give any of the Red Bulls' attacking threats a chance at converting. It's worth exploring whether De Rosario can be more efficient under those circumstances.

4. Sanna Nyassi must deliver in Brian Mullan's place. In the aftermath of his tackle on Steve Zakuani last week, Mullan began his 10-game suspension by missing the Colorado Rapids' 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire. Nyassi started in his place on the right wing and figures to do so for the duration of Mullan's punishment.

Although Nyassi doesn't have Mullan's veteran pedigree or five MLS Cup championship rings, he possesses one thing that Mullan does not and something that could be key to Colorado getting back on track offensively: Blinding pace.

Nyassi, who starred for the Seattle Sounders down the stretch last season and was acquired in the offseason, was influential in the draw and had a potential game-winning cross trickle through the 6-yard box after he managed to catch up to a long diagonal through ball. Most of Colorado's dangerous forays forward came from the right as a result of Nyassi's work on and off the ball. His presence also helps take attention away from Omar Cummings, who assisted on Colorado's lone goal and has been rather quiet for a recent extended stretch of play.

Mullan's absence is a blow to the depth afforded to Gary Smith, but Nyassi is a more dangerous player going forward and gives the Rapids a new, more creative dimension that should assist the defending league champions in recovering their past form.

5. Frank Yallop's message failed to make an impact. The San Jose Earthquakes coach had to do something.

In order to kick-start his slumping team, which was a game away from reaching MLS Cup last season, Yallop benched five starters: Bobby Convey, Ryan Johnson, Khari Stephenson, Sam Cronin and Ramiro Corrales. In their places, he started Justin Morrow, Steven Lenhart, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Brad Ring and Bobby Burling, in an attempt to send a message that nobody should be taking his starting job for granted. Yallop undoubtedly hoped that his personnel move would galvanize his troops.

It didn't.

While Ampaipitakwong showed glimpses of his passing skill in his opportunity, the Earthquakes hardly threatened Faryd Mondragon's goal despite having a man advantage for more than half of the match.

Yallop's post-match comments indicated that his squad lacks confidence. It certainly doesn't lack talented players -- even though one of his most potential-filled players, center back Ike Opara, remains tied to the bench -- but as Houston and D.C. showed last season, a bad stretch of unfortunate results can have a snowball effect on a team's confidence that can last all season. Next up for the Earthquakes is a Vancouver team that hasn't won in seven league matches and is just as desperate for a three-point haul. Empire Field hasn't been the easiest place for opposing teams to get a result, but San Jose really needs to dig down and find a way to do so to snap its horrid streak.

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