FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The tepid response from New York after Thierry Henry incurred a one-match ban on Friday highlighted its practical irrelevance.
Instead of expressing their outrage about the suspension Henry procured for apparently headbutting Kei Kamara in Sporting Kansas City's 2-0 victory at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night, the Red Bulls by and large shrugged their shoulders.
Why did the enforced omission of the best player on the team matter so little? New York coach Hans Backe explained the conundrum rather succinctly after his side suffered yet another improbable indignity at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night.
“It doesn't affect us at all,” Backe said about the influence of the suspension on his preparations for the 1-1 draw.
Context matters here. The nonchalance is prompted by the turf at Gillette Stadium, not Henry's ability to help out his team. Backe said he planned to leave the former French international out of his squad for the trip anyways. Henry played on turf in Portland last year (and played well, mind you), but he generally avoids the surface whenever possible to avoid inflaming his recurring Achilles complaints.
Henry's omission creates the rather peculiar optics of a punishment without any meaningful enforcement. If Henry wasn't going to play in his next game and wouldn't really feel the sting of an undisclosed fine that basically represents a parking ticket in his wage bracket, then what form of deterrence does this particular ban provide?
One would expect the MLS Disciplinary Committee wrestled with that perplexing question as it sorted through the problems presented by yet another display of petulance from one of the league's brightest stars. Henry's actions – much like David Beckham's petulant lob from the sideline earlier this year – were too significant to ignore. Any player who acted in a similar manner would have incurred a ban.
The question, as always, arose when the severity of the suspension entered the equation. Henry boasts a poor record in this department (two red cards last season, plus the Kevin Hartman imbroglio and this farce) and deserves little leeway. His needless incident with Kamara sparked a scene in the final stages of a game already decided. Comparable situations involving other players yielded suspensions of one to three games. The maximum ban – doled out to Kyle Beckerman and Nelson Rivas for more violent and less sneaky headbutts during the past year – didn't apply here.
All of that data prompts two rather unsettling questions for the Committee to weigh: (1) did Henry deserve one or two games? and (2) should his likely omission at New England factor into the decision?
The first point incites the most controversy. Henry attracts more scrutiny given his high profile and his previous indiscretions. The Committee's reputation of showing leniency to stars – well earned or not – generally incites the public to push for an extra game or two. Henry's actions may have even warranted the extra game given his history and the awful piece of playacting offered to obscure his actions toward Kamara. It certainly would have made a more punitive impact. In the end, the Committee decided to stick with the one-match ban.
As several people have pointed out since MLS announced the suspension, the Committee could have tacked on an extra game for the sole purpose of ensuring Henry at least missed one meaningful match. Henry's previous behavioral patterns could have justified a second game fairly easily. The Committee – correctly from this viewpoint – rejected that expedient course of action. The final verdict adhered to common sense (external factors should not influence internal deliberations about the length of a suspension) and created a scenario that rendered the punishment completely ineffectual.
The apparent logic behind the decision (and MLS has not offered any meaningful comment on the Henry incident beyond a brief press release) doesn't alter the uncomfortable reality of the situation. Henry apparently headbutted a player and sat out a game he wouldn't have played in anyways as penance for it. By sticking to its principles, the Committee ensured its irrelevance in this particular set of peculiar circumstances. It must strive to ensure that future decisions inflict some meaningful punishment pursuant to the consistently applied principles used here and receive the vociferous rebukes usually associated with such contentious and weighty edicts.
Five Points – Week 27
1. There is a reason why Sporting Kansas City currently sits atop the Eastern Conference...: It involves knowing how to approach matches in the proper manner. Sporting coach Peter Vermes knew his players faced a third game in nine days at Montréal and made four changes from Wednesday's 2-0 win at New York to freshen up his starting XI. Those switches added a bit of energy to a side that relies on that particular trait to thrive and reinforced the need to adopt a measured approach at Stade Saputo. The resulting 0-0 draw followed the plan with chances at a premium for both sides and pushed Sporting's lead at the top of the table to five points until subsequent results altered the outlook.
2. ...though Chicago sure does want to mount a charge for the top seed: Frank Klopas' group defeated Columbus 2-1 at Toyota Park on Saturday night to slice Sporting's lead to two points. The usual pieces – another influential Chris Rolfe performance (two goals) and an eighth come-from-behind victory on the season – came together as the Fire continued its bid to take the entire league by surprise. If Chicago can somehow emerge from LIVESTRONG Sporting Park with a victory next weekend, then the Fire will assume top spot in the Eastern Conference table with a game in hand.
3. The road to MLS Cup likely travels through Buck Shaw (or Stanford) Stadium: San Jose extended its lead atop the Western Conference to 11 points with a 2-1 victory over Seattle at CenturyLink Field on Saturday. Not even Steve Zakuani's first goal since his return from that horrific incident in Colorado last season could lift Sounders FC past an Earthquakes side that has all but sealed the top seed in the Western Conference with four matches to play.
“We came out and executed our game plan very well in the first half and we found some space,” MVP-in-waiting Chris Wondolowski told reporters after his 30th minute goal provided the margin of victory. “We put them under pressure and created a lot of good chances. I think we dropped our line a bit too deep in the second half, which is something we need to work on. But we defended very well tonight and were able to get the win. When you have big center backs like we do, it makes it difficult to score.”
4. Can one stellar week salve four years of wounds?: D.C. United peered into the abyss when Dwayne De Rosario hit the sidelines for 10-12 weeks after suffering a left MCL sprain while away with Canada. Instead of hopping off into the darkness, United buckled down and produced three gritty results – including Sunday's 1-0 victory over Chivas USA – to climb up to third place and cobble together a five-point edge on sixth-placed Columbus. D.C. isn't in the postseason yet, but this stretch of three victories – and the accommodating fixtures to come at Portland and at Toronto FC – sure made a playoff berth more plausible.
5. Another setback for Vancouver's Scottish revolution: Martin Rennie and his players can offer few excuses for the 2-2 draw against Colorado on Sunday night. Vancouver bossed the game from the outset despite conceding possession and looked more menacing through the wide options provided by Camilo and Dane Richards. Instead of finding a way to supply those beneficial avenues, the Whitecaps lacked the necessary incisiveness and slipped behind to a sloppily conceded Omar Cummings opener before halftime. Rennie's halftime switch to a 4-4-2 setup and the corresponding team talk prompted a pair of responses from Alain Rochat and Kenny Miller to turn the match. Those strikes should have merited a first win in six attempts, but the Whitecaps failed to see out the game by sitting deeply and shipped a killer second from Jamie Smith four minutes from time.
Smith's equalizer cost the Whitecaps two points they should have bagged and kept FC Dallas (two points behind) within touching distance of the final postseason berth with four matches to play. Vancouver still holds the inside track with three games at B.C. Place left to play, but Rennie's side must display more composure and more professionalism in order to secure fifth spot.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.