Schmid, Sounders fans erect a big, bad Salazar Monster

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Sigi Schmid’s halftime comments drew a few giggles from media and club officials that were amassed in the press box at Wednesday’s match. The smiles weren’t from agreement or discord with Schmid’s description of Ricardo Salazar (the night’s official) as Real Salt Lake’s 12th man. They were ironic chuckles, the kind you’d hear through the hum as a Woody Allen movie played out its farce.

We knew it was coming. The moment Salazar’s appointment was announced, Sounder fans made him the focus. Of course the calls would be the story, particularly in a match that ended 0-0. For days after the result, one in which a 10-man Sounders earned a point from Real Salt Lake, Seattle fans continue to bemoan Salazar (see comments here and here).

There’s one little problem with the complaints: Salazar wasn’t actually that bad on Wednesday. I shared my qualms with the second card on Zach Scott, but I was asking Salazar to use discretion he’s under no obligation to employ. For his part, Schmid (after the match) had no problem with the dismissal. The non-call on Tony Beltran’s first half hand ball was ultimately justified (Schmid questioned is but admitted he hadn’t seen the replay). Chris Schuler saw yellow for a second half challenge that never gets a red card (despite Sounder fans’ calls to even the teams), while Schmid’s complaints about too much time add at match’s end was another example of a coach ignoring the referee’s right to add time to the fourth official’s number.

At some point, someone needs to tell Seattle that there is no huge, green, Salazar Monster marching through Elliott Bay toward CenturyLink field. If the myth of a malevolent Salazar is more than a paranoid fabrication, we’ve yet to see proof.

Schmid, after the match on Wednesday, did make an interesting circumstantial case. All the 50-50 calls in Salazar’s games seem to go against the Sounders, Schmid noted. Undoubtedly that’s an exaggeration, but the list of memorable incidents are starting to pile up. Three calls in the U.S. Open Cup final (Patrick Ianni dismissal, late hand ball for Sporting’s equalizer, ordering a retake in the shootout), a dismissal of Fredy Montero in Portland, and Wednesday’s decisions all went against the Sounders.

Yet all of those moments were, as Schmid said, were 50-50 calls. At worst. Montero’s dismissal, the Beltran non-call – those weren’t 50-50 incidents. Those were the right calls.

It’s also unlikely Schmid or Sounders’ fans are looking for pro-Seattle calls with the same rigor. That would completely defeat the purpose. Fans are supposed to hate referees. Now Seattle have their pantomime villain, though if you’re going to collect 38,000 of your friends to chant “Salazar sucks” (or resort to an ineffectual internet petition as trite as the demonization of an official), you might want something more conclusive than wounded fandom and coin flips.

Now, as Seattle persists with a chance at the second-best record in the league (which would improve their chance to host MLS Cup), their coach has gotten himself suspended. Yet Schmid’s being defended in all mediums by a fan base that’s taking the obligatory, let’s hate one official, meme to sigh-inducing heights. Three days on, the echos of Wednesday’s chants are still registering on fan sites and social media. Even though Seattle can go second with a win over Dallas tomorrow, Wednesday continues to loop (too) large.

There’s nothing about this situation that’s fair to Salazar, who is seeing the negatives of a huge, new fan base whose loyalty seems to obligate accordance with their coach’s views. Nobody deserves to have this kind of disproportionate attention born from such inconclusive evidence.

One of two things needs to happen: Sounder fans need to become more discerning about their views, or Schmid needs to be more responsible about his comments.

That, or we can just keep erecting Salazar Monsters.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”