MLS Timbers Real Salt Lake Soccer

More MLS You Make the Call: Toronto, Portland done wrong on Friday? Let’s all disagree.


That goal, above, should have been Toronto’s game winner, a late header from defender Steven Caldwell that would have given TFC a surprise 2-1 win over the playoff-challenging Revolution. Watch it as many times as you want and please, in the comments, try and tell me where you see the foul. Because I would feel a lot better about what I saw last night if the Reds weren’t actually deprived of two points.

As Caldwell leaps to meet the ball, his left hand is on Jose Gonçalves’s shoulder, but the play isn’t so bang-bang to obscure the fact he’s gaining no advantage. The contact seems incidental. Yes, a generous reading of the play would give Fotis Bazakos the benefit of the doubt, but that’s a reading that would concede any incidental contact as a potential foul. Bazakos got this one wrong in a way that defies the range of a mere judgment call. Unless there’s something about this play that the replay’s failed to capture, this one isn’t a matter of interpretation.

But that wasn’t the only controversy Friday in MLS. In fact, just before halftime of Real Salt Lake’s match against Portland, Toronto’s misfortune was temporarily forgotten when Ben Zemanski was dismissed by Baldomero Toledo:

The debates around this one were predictable to the point of cliché, which isn’t to say that there wasn’t plenty of room for interpretation. It’s just that we’ve heard it all before, be it legitimate arguments regarding the danger the play presented or the increasingly pungent “got ball”-based explanations that are often more appropriate for a basketball court than a soccer field.

Given the speed of the play, there was some question as to whether Zemanski “innocently” went through his man or there was something more to the play. In real-time, given the way we saw Ned Grabavoy go over, red didn’t seem to rash, but maybe a closer look, one more akin to what Toledo saw on the field, would absolve Zemanski.

The opposite turned out to be true. As you can see in this still that was circulating online after the incident (which I believe was produced by the staff as the league’s website), Zemanski’s studs are up, over the ball, making contract with Grabavoy as the RSL midfielder tried to elevate over his man:

Caleb Porter labeled this a bad call post match, and he wasn’t the only one. In real-time, a number of prominent people debated whether Zemanski should have been sent off:

The images leave little doubt as to the tackle’s potential. At a minimum, Toledo deserves the benefit of the doubt. If Zemanski would have stayed on, Real Salt Lake would have been right to complain about the referee’s leniency. If Toledo didn’t get this one right, he at least didn’t get it wrong.

As obliged by the hypothetical Laws of Sports Social Media, Toledo’s performance was derided online, with some asking for consistency between this tackle and some unpunished plays we saw last week in Seattle. If Osvaldo Alonso didn’t get a yellow for X, when was Zemanski given a red of Y?

It’s an interesting argument, though it’s also one that makes it far too easy to affirm whatever your bias might be. Think Zemanski should have been dismissed? Simply think of any similar decision in the history of soccer that confirms your opinion. Given how much soccer’s been played, it’s not hard to find one to support your argument. If you can fit your case into 140 characters, even better: “What about [PLAYER] seeing red in [GAME]. It happens all the time!”

And if you think the opposite, that Zemanski should have stayed on? Simply point to last week’s game in Seattle. The same absurd means of making a case work for both sides, which may be one of the reasons why these debates get nowhere.

Everybody wants more consistency in refereeing, but notice how difficult it is for those of us at home — with access to instant replays, expert analysis, Google, and (perhaps most importantly) time to consider — to agree on anything. If people with those resources can’t agree whether Zemanski should be sent off, is it reasonable to expect officials making separate calls, in separate games, under different circumstances that feature different players, to always come up with identically accurate decisions?

Somehow, I don’t think we’ll agree on this one, either.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.