Sunday July 24th, 2011

From Thierry Henry's latest golazo to Manchester United's latest win over an MLS team, here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS action...

1. New York fans can't protest Thierry Henry's equalizer. The New York Red Bulls have caught a ton of flack for sending a complete reserve squad and assistant coaches to their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match on July 12, a match that Chicago won with ease 4-0. During the first home game since that loss, the Red Bulls' fans staged a protest of civil disobedience to voice their displeasure at the club's decision to effectively abandon a run at some elusive silverware.

The club's supporters sat silently for the first half in the South Ward at Red Bull Arena as a protest for the team's approach to the Open Cup went on, making for an awkward atmosphere in a key game against FC Dallas. Those same fans had plenty of reason to cheer after Henry bailed the team out of a potential loss and instead salvaged yet another tie with a tremendous late equalizer.

Henry toyed with up-and-coming Dallas defender Zach Loyd before lacing a pinpoint, left-footed shot from outside the box past a diving Kevin Hartman in New York's 2-2 draw with Chicago -- a game that the Red Bulls led at one point only to yield two second-half goals to Marvin Chavez and go down a man after Dane Richards' second yellow card.

The Red Bulls matched the Chicago Fire with their 12th draw of the season, something that is severely hampering the team's chances of securing home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. While the Red Bulls trail by just one point to surprise first-place conference co-leaders Philadelphia and Columbus, the former has four games in hand on New York, and the latter has two.

Former Red Bulls midfielder Austin da Luz, who was traded to D.C. United earlier in the week, had a telling comment about the situation in New York right now, saying that "The attitude there is 'Win right now.' There's a lot of pressure and tension around the team because of that."

Between the team's continued inability to hold leads and defend set pieces and the front office unable to fully win over the fans despite a star-studded roster and a state-of-the-art stadium, the tension is showing.

2. Toronto's work-in-progress squad needs plenty of work. It's evident that Toronto FC's plethora of new parts still need time to gel. That especially goes for its reconstructed back line.

Sporting Kansas City toasted the Reds' defense on three occasions in a nine-minute span in the first half of a 4-2 win at Livestrong Sporting Park, which extended the host's unbeaten streak to 12 games (5-0-7).

First, Kei Kamara took advantage of a poor clearance of a corner kick with a moment of brilliance, scissor kicking the loose ball past a helpless Stefan Frei in goal for an eye-opening tally.

Five minutes later, Kamara was given the space for a free header off the simplest of crosses to the far post, and he buried the chance with ease. Four minutes after that, new Toronto center back Andy Iro failed to step forward with the rest of his line, keeping Omar Bravo onside for a through ball from new K.C. Designated Player Jeferson. Bravo rounded Frei and finished into an empty net to cap the first-half onslaught.

Bravo added a second in the second half after being inexplicably released by Richard Eckersley to touch home Chance Myers' cross from the right. All-in-all, it was a disastrous night for TFC's new-look defense.

The new offensive pieces for Toronto, on the other hand, created a number of chances, with Ryan Johnson finding DP striker Danny Koevermans for a consolation goal before pulling back one of his own midway through the second half. If -- and it's a big "if" -- all of the new parts find their bearings, then Toronto could make for a tough opponent instead of automatic points on the schedule. Time is not on the Reds' side for an improbable postseason push though, as they're tied for most games played (23) thus far, while the teams directly ahead of them in the standings have as many as four games on them.

3. Sanna Nyassi's banner week. There were plenty of solid individual performances in MLS between the midweek matches and Saturday's slate. Between Bravo and Kamara each scoring twice, and Chris Wondolowski and Eric Hassli posting dueling braces during Wednesday's San Jose-Vancouver draw, quite a few players could make a case for Player of the Week honors.

They all play second fiddle to Colorado's Sanna Nyassi, though.

When star striker Conor Casey went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon last week, the Rapids' chances at success seemed to be decimated. Enter Nyassi, a sparkplug winger who scored a hat trick playing an unusual forward role against the Red Bulls in a 4-1 Wednesday shocker. Not surprisingly, he commanded all sorts of attention in Colorado's 2-2 draw with New England, for whom his twin brother, Sainey, plays.

Sanna combined with Omar Cummings to draw a penalty kick that Caleb Folan converted to level the score with the Revs at 1-1 at the time. Although Casey's absence might change how Colorado goes about its tactics, Nyassi showed that coach Gary Smith still has some viable options to get the defending MLS Cup champions back to the postseason, where -- as they showed in 2010 -- anything can happen.

4. Inconsistent enforcement of diving simulation. MLS officials are under order to make a concerted effort to point out simulation and punish those guilty for the infraction. It's an inexact science, though, and a couple of instances on Saturday night proved that point.

In New York's draw with FC Dallas, referee Jorge Gonzalez went to his pocket without hesitation to book Juan Agudelo for diving just inside the area. A few states to the west, referee Andrew Chapin let play carry on after Columbus' Robbie Rogers demonstrated a pretty blatant attempt at trying to draw a penalty after absorbing minimal contact (if any) before taking a couple of steps and eventually going to ground.

The league sent a message went it fined D.C. United's Charlie Davies $1,000 for diving against Real Salt Lake while adding the caveat that future offenders would be subject to fines and/or suspensions. Whether the league's discipline committee holds its stance and takes any further action on Agudelo, Rogers and other would-be simulators remains to be seen.

5. Manchester United's depth > MLS roster depth. Not like that's some brilliant revelation, but Manchester United's run in the World Football Challenge is proving that point with authority.

The Premier League champions have made a meal of their friendlies in the United States, but a closer look shows that the Red Devils have done the bulk of their damage in the second half of their matches, when rapid substitutions drastically change the complexion of the game. Thirteen of the team's 14 goals in wins over the New England Revolution (4-1), Seattle Sounders (7-0) and Chicago Fire (3-1) have come in the second half of those games, with the reserves finding their way on the score sheet with regularity.

Against the Fire, those "reserves" consisted of Wayne Rooney, Nani, Ryan Giggs and Rafael, among others, to lift United to a come-from-behind victory. All of the evidence leading up to next week's All-Star Game points to the MLS All-Stars providing a bit more resistance over the course of 90 minutes, given the added depth that All-Star coach Hans Backe will have at his disposal in comparison to the typical MLS roster.

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