COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Sanna Nyassi was clutching Thierry Henry’s No. 14 shirt Wednesday after his spectacular hat trick secured the Colorado Rapids’ 4-1 thrashing over the visiting New York Red Bulls.
“This is a dream come true," Nyassi said. "I’ve always been a big fan of Thierry Henry and, right after the game, I told him, ‘I need your jersey,’”
And on this night, Nyassi earned it.
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Taking advantage of a surprise start up top alongside Omar Cummings in the absence of the injured Conor Casey, Nyassi lit up the Red Bulls with goals in the second, 30th and 61st minutes. All three of his goals came as he dribbled through a porous Red Bulls defense.
He also notched an assist, shooting spectacularly from distance onto the post to give Wells Thompson a straightforward rebound.
Henry admitted his team was “hammered” by the defending MLS Cup champions and said it wasn’t the first time he had seen how dangerous Nyassi can be, particularly playing alongside Cummings. Nyassi also featured prominently in the 2-2 draw in New York in the teams’ other meeting in May.
“You could see the connection they had,” Henry said. “He did that against us at our place, but he didn’t score. That was why nobody noticed it; we did. He is lively and, on a good day, he could kill any team in this league.
“He has a good understanding with Cummings,” Henry added. “I think that was the first time they played together with him as second striker, but I am sure it won’t be the last one.”
Nyassi was told Friday he would be starting up top as a second striker after previously playing predominantly on the wing. The Gambian import said he received a lot of encouragement from both the coaching staff and his teammates about playing such a role from the start.
“I enjoyed playing as a forward; it gave me more room and gave me more opportunities to go at the defenders one v. one,” he said. “I’ve been feeling it since yesterday. Everybody in training was giving me confidence, telling me this game will give you enough space to go at those defenders in that front role.”
Rapids head coach Gary Smith was full of praise for his team, clearly paying special attention to Nyassi’s breakout game.
“It was a wonderful display, typified by Sanna’s sensational display,” he said. “To beat New York in an emphatic fashion and for Sanna to hold the flame on the performance, it was incredible.”
Smith said he wanted Nyassi to concentrate on having a go at the defenders on Wednesday and felt that the forward role would suit him better against a center-back pairing of Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes he felt had “flaws.”
“He wasn’t being asked necessarily to defend as much,” Smith said. “What was the difference in and around their penalty box was the change of pace, a bit of creation and a real decisive movement. He wanted to get beyond their back four and really make something happen, and it did.”
Smith also praised fellow striker Cummings for his teamwork ethic, calling his overall performance “terrific.” Cummings had the assist on each of Nyassi’s goals.
The Rapids return to action at home on Saturday against New England.
“Tonight’s a great night,” Smith said. “It wasn’t just a good win, it was a good display. Of course, I’m delighted and I hope it gives the guys all the confidence they need for the weekend.”