Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD

MLS: Atlanta buzzsaw rips LAFC; Chicago struggling; VAR (still) a mess

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The sixth Saturday of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and as always, we learned a few lessons from the afternoon and evening’s slate of games…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Return of the ATL buzzsaw

Atlanta United were shut out — and blown out — on opening day just over a month ago, and the knee-jerk reactions were as predictable as they were flimsy: Are they really that good? Maybe they just had a lucky season last year? You can’t play like that in MLS and expect to win.

That narrative lasted, quite literally, all of 90 minutes before Tata Martino’s men dismantled D.C. United and Vancouver Whitecaps by a combined score of 7-2 in back-to-back weeks immediately thereafter and ground out a 1-0 win over Minnesota United while playing 52 minutes a man down last week. The Five Stripes’ resurgent run came to a head on Saturday, when they hammered Los Angeles FC, the expansion side upon which so much praise was heaped following wins in their first two games, to the tune of 5-0. Miguel Almiron scored two from the penalty spot, to go with single tallies from Josef Martinez, Julian Gressel and Romario Williams.

On Saturday, it was Gressel who stood head and shoulders above his peers, as the 24-year-old German import (via last year’s SuperDraft) bagged the game’s opening goal and delivered the seeing-eye cross to Martinez for the second which all but put the game to bed. At right, you’ll find the entirety of Gressel’s contributions for the afternoon, on both end of the field.

A few observations: 1) there’s not a single unsuccessful pass shorter than 10 or 15 yards in distance; 2) he’s extremely tidy when involved in short, combination play; 3) the location of his defensive actions, all of which are inside Atlanta’s defensive half of the field, placed alongside his passing map, paint a clear picture of just how active and involved he is over the course of 90 minutes.

Teammates like Martinez, Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Hector Villalba and even Darlington Nagbe will get 95 percent of the headlines coming out of Atlanta this year — and rightly so, nothing should be taken away from them — but it’s someone like Gressel, who functions like the glue that hold all those entertaining, attacking parts together, while managing to contribute more than his fair share of danger, that has this buzzsaw ripping through opponents week in and week out.

[ MORE: Agent: Giuseppe Rossi could seek MLS move after two years ]

VAR is… struggling… still… still

Atlanta midfielder Chris McCann was sent off for a reckless tackle, which occurred 36 seconds into the game, that referee Ted Unkel deemed to have endangered the safety, in one way or another, of LAFC’s Benny Feilhaber. Unkel then consulted his handy-dandy video-assistant review system, and reversed the call, drastically changing the events and outcome of the ensuing 89 minutes.

If you watched the above clip, you’ll probably agree it’s something commonly referenced as an “orange-card” offense — just shy of a sending-off, but worse than your run-of-the-mill yellow card — which is just a clever way to say that it’s far from a “clear and obvious error” (yet again, that’s the language of MLS and the Professional Referee Organization), which is, of course, the threshold for a reviewable decision. No matter the initial call — red or yellow — it’s planted firmly in the gray area between yes and no, right and wrong.

If you watched that clip, you’ll find another extremely gray-area decision that initially went against Atlanta, only for Unkel to change his mind after a video review. I’m of the opinion it’s probably a foul — one that Almiron baits Walker Zimmerman into and undoubtedly embellishes — but it’s nowhere near definitive one way or another, which is the mandatory requirement to review the call on the field.

In the grand scheme of the game, it mattered very little, but if this is the willy-nilly process by which refs choose whether or not to review calls on the field, it’s going to rear its ugly head at a critical point in a game in the near future, and continue to do so until there’s a uniform process in place. The fact we’re left to wonder about the thought process of refs is, easily, the most frustrating part and does little to dispel the notion that MLS refs aren’t up to the standard of the league’s players and they too routinely impact the outcome of games.

[ MORE: CONCACAF issues punishments for TFC-America fracas in CCL ]

A win, but the same old problems for Chicago

Here’s the good news for Chicago Fire fans: after two losses and a draw to start the season, your team beat Columbus Crew SC and got its first win on Saturday.

Here’s the bad news: it was an identical offensive performance to those first three games, only with a Howler of the Year nominee from Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen to bail out an attacking unit totally bereft of ideas and execution.

This is hardly a new development for Veljko Paunovic’s side, which lacked any semblance of a focal-point playmaker last season. Here’s some worse news, as something of an aside: it wasn’t addressed during the offseason, and the secondary transfer window might be too late in a deep Eastern Conference (the primary window is still open, but April and May are practical non-starters for transfer activity).

You can see, clear as day, where the gaping hole exists, as well as some pretty damning statistics. Paunovic’s plan ahead of Saturday’s win over Columbus was to pair a target man, Alan Gordon, with the defending Golden Boot Winner, Nemanja Nikolic, presumably to provide a bit of hold-up and knock-down play for Nikolic to swarm around and make runs off of. It… well, didn’t really work, as Nikolic touched the ball just once times inside Crew SC’s penalty area — his goal, which resulted from a wayward pass from the opposing goalkeeper.

Does Paul Pogba to PSG make sense?

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Paul Pogba‘s time at Manchester United could be nearing an abrupt end for the second time in his professional career.

And now, a club that was previously tracking the France international appears to be expressing heavy interest in the midfielder once again.

[ MORE: The latest Premier League player power rankings ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Paris Saint-Germain and Mino Raiola — Pogba’s agent — have been in contact recently over a potential move to the French capital at the conclusion of the 2017/18 season.

The report suggests that Raiola has been in talks with several other big clubs in regards to the availability of Pogba in the near future, however, a move to his native country could sweeten the deal for the 25-year-old.

The Frenchman has scored 10 league goals for the Red Devils since he re-joined the side in 2016/17 from Juventus.

Pogba has had an up-and-down relationship at Old Trafford with manager Jose Mourinho, which nearly caused a move for the attacker during the January transfer window.

Cross-town rivals Manchester City were heavily linked to Pogba at the time, however, nothing came to fruition as the Citizens went on to claim the Premier League title with several matches remaining on their calendar.

While PSG seems like a logical fit given the club’s free-flowing attack and recent willingness to acquire massive talents, including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the Ligue 1 giants may not be able to financially support another big-time addition like Pogba.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws have been tested by PSG, particularly during last summer’s transfer window when the club acquire both Neymar and Mbappe for over $400 million combined.

PSG is set to meet with UEFA on Friday though, which could give an indication one way or another as to how the front office can approach its spending habits in the months to come.

Watch Live: Burnley v Chelsea; Leicester v Saints

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Two big Premier League games are coming your way on Thursday as Burnley host Chelsea at Turf Moor, while Leicester welcome Southampton to the King Power Stadium.

WATCH BURNLEY-CHELSEA LIVE

Burnley are aiming to win six-straight games in the Premier League as reigning champs Chelsea head to Lancashire hoping to cut the gap on the top four to just five points.

In team news from Turf Moor, Burnley start Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes up top together as Sean Dyche looks to get at the visitors early with plenty of balls into the box. Chelsea rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of the FA Cup semifinal and start Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata up top together.

WATCH LEICESTER-SAINTS LIVE

As for Leicester against Saints the Foxes’ hopes of European action are all but over after a poor run of form, while Southampton are battling for their lives in the relegation zone but a win would move Saints to just two points from safety with four games to play.

The teams news from Leicester is that Kasper Schmeichel is out injured in goal, while Claude Puel has picked an attacking lineup with Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho up top and the Mahrez, Gray and Albrighton all starting.

Saints are unchanged from the team which started so well against Chelsea before collapsing to lose last time out.

Click on the links above to watch the games, which both kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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With the games coming thick and fast, it is time to take a look at which players were “en fuego” during the past weekend in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City dominate our latest rankings after their fine performances over the past PL weekend.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – New entry
  2. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Up 8
  3. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – Up 10
  4. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – Up 14
  5. Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle United) – Up 10
  6. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 5
  7. David De Gea (Man United) – Down 5
  8. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – Down 8
  9. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 3
  10. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  11. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2
  12. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Down 7
  13. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 7
  14. Kenedy (Newcastle) – Up 3
  15. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – Down 11
  16. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – Down 13
  17. Kyle Walker (Man City) – New entry
  18. Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace) – New entry
  19. Nick Pope (Burnley) – New entry
  20. Jay Rodriguez (West Brom) – New entry

FIFA closes racism case from U-17 World Cup final

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA closed a racism investigation Thursday that involved a Spain player and an England opponent from the Under-17 World Cup final.

FIFA said its disciplinary panel dismissed the charge against the Spanish player because of a “lack of sufficient evidence that could corroborate the English player’s claim.”

It is the third recent case of a high-profile allegation of racist abuse of black players being closed without action.

The latest ruling, from England’s 5-2 win in India last October, followed “a thorough investigation,” FIFA said.

In March, UEFA ended two investigations because of a lack of verifiable evidence.

Those claims were made by Borussia Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi against Italian club Atalanta, and Liverpool youth forward Rhian Brewster against a Spartak Moscow opponent.

Brewster also played in the Under-17 World Cup final, scoring the first goal in England’s comeback after trailing 2-0 in the first half.

“Despite the absence of a sanction, which can only be imposed on the basis of clear evidence, the disciplinary committee would like to restate FIFA’s unequivocal, zero-tolerance stance against all forms of discrimination,” the soccer body said in a statement.

In other rulings announced Thursday, FIFA imposed fines totaling more than $1.25 million.

The Laos soccer federation was fined 690,000 Swiss francs ($712,000) for several breaches of rules governing the eligibility of players to represent a national team.

Benfica and Sporting Lisbon were among five clubs found guilty of breaking rules which prohibit third-party investors having a stake in players’ transfer rights, and misuse of FIFA’s international transfer registration process.

Benfica was fined a total of 165,000 Swiss francs ($170,000) in two cases and Sporting was fined 110,000 Swiss francs ($114,000). In Spain, Celta Vigo was fined 65,000 Swiss francs ($67,000) and Rayo Vallecano was fined 55,000 Swiss francs ($57,000). Qatari club Al Arabi was fined 187,500 Swiss francs ($194,000).