Sunday August 7th, 2011

From insanity at RFK Stadium to a few of the league's youngest players stealing the spotlight, here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS games:

1. A bizarre night in Washington, D.C. "I don't even know what just happened." That's a pretty appropriate summation from D.C. United coach Ben Olsen about his club's bizarre 3-3 draw with Toronto FC.

When D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who just earned his first call up to the U.S. national team, got sent off in the seventh minute, the seeds were planted for an unusual night. Referee Jasen Anno (much more on him in a bit) gave Hamid 83 more minutes than he thought he'd have to prepare for his first national team experience after his unnecessary challenge outside the box on new TFCer Eric Avila, forcing Steve Cronin into goal and making Olsen take a field player off.

Nevertheless, Dwayne De Rosario punished TFC's work-in-progress defense with a shot from long distance, and D.C. took a 1-0 lead into halftime, a lead that it would surely sit back and defend for the remainder of the night considering it was down to 10 men, right?

Not so fast.

Peri Marosevic leveled the score after a poor Cronin clearance minutes into the second half, only for De Rosario to strike again after an awful Andy Iro error in the back put the former TFC captain in on goal for his second tally of the night.

A few minutes later, the story of the night reached its climax. Allow the statement issued by Anno and his crew after the match to explain the proceedings: "In the 66th minute D.C. United player, [Brandon] McDonald left the field of play due to injury and did not return. Play was restarted with a drop ball. After roughly two minutes of play, the fourth official notified the referee for the next available substitution for D.C. United. The next stoppage was a throw-in for Toronto in the 69th minute. Play was stopped and the referee beckoned the substitute, D.C. United player, [Ethan] White on to the field. At that moment, the Senior Assistant Referee and the fourth official told the player to enter the field of play, which he did. Play was restarted with the whistle and the ball was put into play by Toronto."

Video evidence begs to differ.

Play never appeared to be stopped, and while White was in the process of being waved onto the field by Anno, TFC continued to play on. Ashtone Morgan played a simple cross to an unmarked Julian de Guzman, who scored on a shot from distance to level the score and send Olsen into a frenzy that eventually got him sent off.

De Guzman had a surprisingly honest take on the matter.

"Any moment you can get like that you want to take advantage of it," he said. "The best teams in the world know how to, how should I put it, cheat. It was a good opportunity for myself to find open space, and it was real smart of Ashtone to play it in."

Following all of that, TFC Designated Player Danny Koevermans converted on a poorly defended corner kick in the 86th minute to give his side the briefest of 3-2 leads only to have De Rosario complete his hat trick after Austin da Luz drew a penalty kick. Add De Rosario missing what for him is considered a sitter that would've been a 90th-minute game-winner and his fourth of the night followed by six minutes of stoppage time, and the wildest match of the season came to a close.

Does that clear things up, coach?

2. De Rosario can't stop scoring on former teams. It's incredible what playing against former employers has done for De Rosario's statistics.

Playing against his hometown Toronto FC -- for whom he starred from 2009 until the beginning of this season -- for the first time since being dealt on April 1, De Rosario netted a hat trick.

There's a bit of a pattern that's been developing here.

In De Rosario's first minute in his brief time as a New York Red Bulls player, he assisted on a goal against the Houston Dynamo, for whom he starred and won two MLS Cups.

Less than two weeks after being traded from New York to D.C., he scored the lone goal in United's 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena, beating the player for whom he was traded, Dax McCarty, on his way to the finish.

Last week, playing in San Jose, where he began to earn his reputation for the first five years of his career, De Rosario scored two top-notch goals and won the league's Player of the Week honors.

"It was kind of weird being on the other side," de Guzman said. "I'm used to playing with him on the national team or TFC, but this time it was against him, and he was able to prove himself again as one of the greatest players to ever play in MLS."

This year has proved to be one of vengeance for De Rosario, but he'll have to show that he can get it done against teams whose jersey he has yet to don, as D.C. doesn't play another one of his former teams for the rest of the regular season.

3. Sporting Kansas City's streak goes up in smoke. Just moments before putting the final touches on what should have been its 15th consecutive game without a loss, 10-man Sporting Kansas City let its guard down, and the Seattle Sounders pounced.

Mauro Rosales and Lamar Neagle scored two goals in the 90th minute and stoppage time to overturn a 1-0 deficit in a heartbeat and completely alter the outlook for both teams moving forward.

Had Sporting K.C. held on, it could've crept into a second-place tie with the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference. Instead, it remains firmly in the balance in the tight conference standings, a positive result away from being in the automatic playoff zone but a loss away from being caught from behind by eager D.C. and Houston.

Seattle, meanwhile, kept itself positioned for a run at the Supporters' Shield while remaining firmly entrenched in the all-important third spot in the Western Conference, four points clear of Colorado, and five ahead of Real Salt Lake.

Considering how dangerously Sporting K.C. had been living during its streak, with late equalizers helping preserve draws on a few occasions, and considering that it was the third time in two seasons that the Sounders won this matchup at the death, perhaps it was time that the club's luck ran out.

4. Set-piece defending continues to doom New York. If De Rosario scoring against a former team is a given, then so too is the Red Bulls conceding goals on set pieces.

New York, which, couldn't capitalize on the momentum from winning the Emirates Cup, fell at Real Salt Lake by a 3-0 score line, and while the performance as a whole left much to be desired, the opening goal was another example of how the underbelly of the club has cost it copious amounts of points.

A simple run to the center of the box by RSL defender Nat Borchers went undetected and resulted in a free header in front of the goal, the type of strike that has been haunting the Red Bulls all season. Whether it's zonal marking or man marking, the Red Bulls can't get it figured out. There's no shame in dropping a result at Rio Tinto Stadium. Plenty of teams do that. But when it's the same mistakes happening over and over again, an eyebrow has to be raised at what exactly is going on behind the scenes of one of the league's most talented teams -- on paper, anyway.

5. Young talent shows their worth. A teenage trio showed that the future of MLS is quite bright.

New England Revolution's 16-year-old homegrown player Diego Fagundez drew a penalty kick and scored a goal of his own in his MLS debut, Real Salt Lake 17-year-old Luis Gil scored his first career MLS goal, and Philadelphia Union 19-year-old forward Jack McInerney found the back of the net as well in one of the league's more prolific nights for young players in recent memory.

Not much could have been expected of Fagundez, who made his debut as a 66th-minute substitute while New England was in search of a jolt during its 3-2 loss to Chivas USA. In just moments, though, the fleet-footed Fagundez drew a (questionable) penalty on Heath Pearce that Shalrie Joseph converted to give the Revs some life.

With his team down 3-1, Fagundez showed the offensive presence to latch onto a long Kevin Alston pass and maintain focus in the box, taking advantage of a bit of a defensive miscue and landing in the right spot to slot a slick shot by otherwise-stellar Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy.

Gil, meanwhile, has been playing at a high level when called upon, but he netted his first MLS goal right before halftime to put a dagger into New York's hopes at Rio Tinto Stadium. A lazy clearance fell to U.S. national team call-up Kyle Beckerman, who set up Gil for a shot from just outside the area that doubled RSL's lead at the time.

With U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann in attendance, McInerney rewarded his coaching staff's faith in him by turning in a stout 65-minute performance in Philadelphia's 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo. He scored with the outside of his foot while being charged at to tally the Union's lone goal and had a second goal waved off for a narrow offside call, despite his finish being clinical on a first-time shot.

McInerney, who turned 19 on Friday, nearly scored on an audacious bicycle kick attempt in front of the goal as well, only to put his shot over the bar. With Klinsmann's influence over the U.S. youth program, one has to wonder whether McInerney did himself some favors by making a favorable impression with Olympic qualifying beginning in March.

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