Chris Wingert’s hit on Kei Kamara wasn’t a red card, but it should have been

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfpjh6mLyxM]

Fast forward to 0:50 of the highlights, above, and you’ll quickly catch up on the issue: Chris Wingert’s “challenge” at the five-second mark of last night’s match in Utah

I put challenge in quotes not to inflame the discussion. I just don’t have a good word for what happened. We usually describe a defender’s attempt to dispossess an opponent as a challenge, and since those are some of the few times we see players coming together from opposing directions, we’re sometimes a little bit loose with the word. Any confrontation is a challenge, a rule that works most of the time.

But Wingert’s “challenge” had little to do with the ball. True, if Ike Opara doesn’t send a pass in the general vicinity of Kei Kamara, Wingert has no license to clean out the Sporting KC attacker. But Wingert’s not even moving in the direction of the ball when he makes contact. This hit looks like a free safety lighting up a tight end who’s feeling too comfortable coming over the middle.

But what purpose does that serve in a soccer match? This might be a case of Sporting’s reputation preceding them. It’s no secret Kansas City is considered one of the most physical teams in the league, and before San Jose surged to national attention last season, a lot of the discussions we have about the Earthquakes’ style of play took place in more muted tones around Peter Vermes’ team. With Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar gone, it would be a mistake to assume the 2013 version of Sporting KC is as willing to rely on their physicality. But that doesn’t mean their reputation has died out. nor does it mean their philosophy is inherently different.

In that vein, it’s easy to see Wingert’s body block as a message-sender: We’re the home team. We’re the league leaders. You are not going to dictate the terms of this match. So if we have to take an early yellow card to send a message, so be it. One of our guys is going clean you out, and if it happens to be the veteran who will serve his accumulation suspension for our upcoming trip to Red Bull Arena, so be it.

Nobody’s going to confirm that’s what happened (I’m barely comfortable typing it out), so that scenario will remain somewhere between interesting and paranoid. But I just can’t answer this question in a way that doesn’t feed that paranoia: How does that hit happen at the point in the match, on that ball, with that intensity if it wasn’t in somebody’s mind before the opening whistle?

The big question Kansas City fans were asking post-match: Why wasn’t that a red card? Wingert launches himself, lowers his shoulder, and catches Kamara either in the upper chest or right under the jaw. Isn’t that serious foul play by use of “excessive force”? Perhaps the Disciplinary Committee will disagree with Matthew Foerster’s interpretation.

There seems little question that it’s excessive. FIFA guidelines define that as when a “player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.” Blindsided, running at near full speed into his man, and hit unsuspecting, Kamara easily could have been hurt. At least, injury became a greater possibility than should otherwise be acceptable during an MLS match. And given the defender’s alternative (like, don’t level a guy that’s 12 yards away from the ball’s landing point), there’s no question Wingert’s hit exceeded the necessary use of force.

Alas, you’re rarely going to see a red card in the fifth second of a match. Referees just don’t want to do it. They don’t want to define matches, and while the inexperience of Foerster (officiating his 15th MLS match) was brought up after the match, that critique is more applicable to how the game was controlled than an unwillingness to reduce a team to 10 moments after kickoff.

Teams shouldn’t be given a zone at the beginning of games to stretch the rules, but that’s the reality of it. Maybe if Kamara had been hurt, we’d be having a bigger discussion about this, but for now, players are still going to have license to send messages like Wingert’s. It could be a reckless slide tackle, a borderline denial of a goal scoring chance, or a body block like Wingert’s. It’s still a rare official who wants to truly enforce the rules while the match is so young.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.