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By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Jumping to conclusions after MLS First Kick
New York has one of the most high-profile players in MLS in Thierry Henry.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Major League Soccer just started the 2012 season a few days ago, but it is never too early to jump to conclusions after an exciting First Kick weekend.

The Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC get a pass, only because they did not play on opening weekend. We'll get to them later in the season.

With 16 teams and many storylines to choose from, the obvious choice to start with is Red Bull New York. It seems the bull's-eye is always on the Bulls, but for good reason.

Although the final 15 minutes of a 2-1 defeat to FC Dallas were promising, it is impossible to overlook the first 75 minutes or the post-game reactions.

Plain and simple, coach Hans Backe needs to go.

Backe had a decent first season as coach in 2010, leading the Red Bulls to an Eastern Conference regular-season crown. Last season resulted in just 10 wins during the regular season and another quick playoff exit, however.

New York has two of the most high-profile players in MLS in Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez (who is suspended for the first two matches of the season) and other talent on board as well.

But Backe has not been able to put the complementary pieces together, or find a system to best-suit the talent. Credit Backe for making some on-the-fly adjustments Sunday against Dallas, something he rarely did last season.

As strange as it was to see, the Red Bulls were most effective with Henry - a pure goal scorer - playing in midfield. But why was that a move that was made with the season underway? What happened to the offseason?

And is Henry in midfield really the answer?

Juan Agudelo, a 19-year-old New York striker, believes so.

"I like Henry at midfielder and I think that's where he's the best," Agudelo, who made just 12 starts last season, said.

Agudelo enjoyed the latter stages of the match when Kenny Cooper came off the bench to play alongside him as a second striker. That "helps stretch the back line," according to Agudelo.

It also helps stretch Henry too far from goal. Although Henry's assist on the lone New York goal, scored by Cooper, proved he can play either role, Backe's decision turns one of the top scorers in the sport's history into a playmaker.

Henry was obviously upset following the match, and cut short an interview. He did not depart without saying, "We have to win games."

The solution? "We have to score more goals," said Henry, in his third season with New York.

New York's struggles with Henry and company on board prove MLS has depth, and that star power does not easily translate into wins. But for New York to make anything of the Henry era, it has to end the Backe era.

L.A. WILL NOT WIN THE WEST?

The Los Angeles Galaxy did not lose at home last year, but dropped their home and season opener against Real Salt Lake. L.A. actually led in the match, but an own goal and tired legs - the Galaxy were in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday - helped lead to a late collapse. Real Salt Lake deserves credit for the 3-1 win, but L.A. also hit the crossbar twice in the first half. With 33/34ths of the season left, the West is still the Galaxy's to lose.

WHITECAPS FC WILL SURPRISE?

Vancouver Whitecaps FC opened its second season in MLS with a 2-0 win against the Montreal Impact. After tying for the fewest points in the league one year ago with the New England Revolution, could the Canadian club be ready to make a huge leap forward this season? It's possible, but don't use the win against the expansion Impact to make that decision. Sebastien Le Toux, who scored and helped set up a goal, will make a difference, but there's still work to do.

NO TIES IN MLS THIS SEASON?

The season is eight games old and there are no draws! It's refreshing, but one season after all but five clubs finished with at least 10 draws, will the trend continue? Unfortunately, it will not. Red Bull New York and the Chicago Fire each finished with 16 draws last year, a new MLS record. With most teams happy to grab a point on the road, that will remain the focus for many again. If there was an early conclusion that continued, the vote would fall here.

EAST STILL BEHIND THE WEST?

The West has won eight of the last 10 MLS Cup titles, and opening weekend has again proven the divide between conferences. West squads secured five of the six inter-conference matches, with the Houston Dynamo - which just moved from the West to the East before last season - the lone exception. Although a year of dominance by the West would not be a surprise, every East squad was on the road for First Kick. Hesitantly, let's give the East more time.

MISS OF THE SEASON ALREADY?

Oswaldo Minda made his Chivas USA debut Sunday and it could take a long time for anyone to forget his first MLS appearance for the wrong reason. Minda can make an impact for Chivas this season, but his header against Houston may end up as the worst miss of the year. Minda ran onto a pass from Laurent Courtois and despite being wide open 6 yards in front of goal, sent the header back to Courtois. Minda should be thankful it didn't go out for a throw-in.

MLS POWER POLL

The Sports Network's MLS Power Poll, which ranks all 19 league teams, can be found at here.

MLS Individual Award Predictions
 MLS MVP
 Edson Buddle, Los Angeles Galaxy - Buddle was the most dangerous scorer in MLS two seasons ago. He scored 17 goals for the Galaxy and narrowly missed the MVP award. Somebody on L.A. will be the beneficiary of stars David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juninho, and Buddle fits the bill. He had just two assists in 2010 and his job will not be to set up goals this year, either.

 MLS GOLDEN BOOT
 Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake - In just 23 games last season, Saborio notched 11 goals for Real Salt Lake. With Javier Morales healthy again, there is every reason to believe Saborio can increase that total this season in more matches. He also scored 12 goals in 2010, so he has a proven track record. Real will be one of the team's to beat again this season, and Saborio will play his part.

 MLS DEFENDER OF THE YEAR
 Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake - With 2011 defender of the year Omar Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Galaxy lost for the season with a torn ACL, the chase for this season's award comes down to a pair of RSL defenders. Jamison Olave sealed the honor in 2010, but Borchers, a finalist each of the last two seasons, will get the nod this season.

 MLS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
 Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution - The third overall selection in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Rowe should have a significant role with the Revolution this season. Although Rowe will face competition from Toronto FC rookie Luis Silva, New England needs its draft pick to produce even more to bounce back from last season's poor performance.

 MLS COACH OF THE YEAR
 Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire - Klopas took over 11 matches into the 2011 season, and did more with less than any coach in MLS. Although the Fire may not be the most enjoyable team to watch, Klopas knows how to produce results. Chicago was 7-2-1 in its last 10 games last season, and if that's any indication of what's ahead, the Fire will make a lot more noise in the Eastern Division.


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