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NYCFC come from behind (twice) to take a point in Atlanta

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ATLANTA (AP) Alexander Ring scored his first MLS goal to help New York City FC to a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United on Sunday night.

David Villa, playing his second match after a three-game absence with a quadriceps injury, had a goal and an assist for New York City (5-0-2).

Ring made it 2-2 in the 73rd minute. Villa, at the top-left corner of the box, drew three defenders and dropped it back to Ring, who trapped it a ripped a right-footer off the crossbar from well outside the area.

Greg Garza tapped in from point-blank range, the rebound of a shot by Miguel Almiron to give Atlanta (4-2-0) a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute.

Villa came on for Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 35th and tied it about three minutes later, converting from the penalty spot after Jo Inge Berget drew a foul in the area conceded by Michael Parkhurst.

Chris McCann answered in the 56th minute, heading home a perfectly-placed cross from Almiron. Parkhurst’s long header off a clearance by Villa led Almiron down the left side and, from the goal line, he lofted it to McCann at the top of the 6-yard box for the finish.

United had its four-game win streak snapped.

MLS at Week 7: Atlanta hosts NYCFC in massive East clash

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Two Eastern Conference giants meet on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a battle that could gauge which club is the king of MLS right now, while Week 7 kicked off with another impressive performance from an Eastern Conference side.

[ MORE: RB Leipzig, Arsenal among teams to advance in Europa League ]

New York City FC kicked off the week’s action with a convincing 4-0 win over Real Salt Lake to keep Patrick Vieira’s side unbeaten in 2018, but the rest of the weekend’s matches feature several more enticing fixtures.

Expansion side Los Angeles FC hopes to get back on the winning side of things against the Vancouver Whitecaps, after Bob Bradley‘s side suffered a brutal 5-0 road defeat to Atlanta United last weekend.

Meanwhile, Atlanta will be in action on Sunday in a major clash of the East’s elite when the Five Stripes take on NYCFC down at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Georgia.

Out West, Sporting KC aims to keep its place at the top of the conference against a struggling Seattle Sounders side that has yet to take a point out of its opening three matches this season.

Below is the full schedule for this weekend’s MLS action.

Wednesday 

NYCFC 4-0 Real Salt Lake

Friday

Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Los Angeles FC

Saturday

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact
Colorado Rapids vs. Toronto FC
Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy
D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew
New England Revolution vs. FC Dallas
Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Houston Dynamo

Sunday

Sporting KC vs. Seattle Sounders
Atlanta United vs. New York City FC

Video: Golazo alert from an Atlanta United academy stud

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We’ve seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s introduction into MLS with an absolute scorcher from distance, but this Atlanta United talent may have the veteran superstar beat.

Atlanta academy forward James Brighton unleashed a violent strike from nearly midfield during Sunday’s 5-1 win over Kendall SC, while also completing a brace in the match.

Brighton took a single touch around the halfway line, before picking his head up and launching a lofted shot from over 50 yards out.

This is the same academy that has quickly seen talents like Andrew Carlton, George Bello and Chris Goslin break out with Atlanta’s senior and USL sides, as well as on the international level with the U.S. youth national teams.

Perhaps if Brighton keeps this up, he’ll be included in the list of next generation successes for the club.

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.

MLS at Week 6: LA FC aims for rebound against Atlanta, Galaxy host SKC

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A number of teams won’t take the pitch this weekend in Major League Soccer, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see our fair share of tasty matchups.

[ MORE: France expected to vote for Morocco in 2026 bid ]

Last season, Atlanta United was the talk of the MLS not only with its star-studded roster and its ability to play attractive soccer, but also by backing it up with results.

Three matches have come and gone, and Los Angeles FC is quickly becoming the 2018 version of Atlanta, with a mixture of stars in their own right and an extremely potent attack led by Designated Players Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.

The two sides will meet on Saturday, with LAFC aiming to rebound from its heartbreaking 4-3 defeat to rivals LA Galaxy last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy are riding a hot start at home, and will take on Western Conference-leading Sporting KC the following evening at StubHub Center.

Superstar goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, fresh off his two-goal effort last weekend, could be in line to make his first MLS start for the Galaxy after coming off the bench against LAFC.

Below is the full schedule of the weekend’s MLS fixtures.

Friday

New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET

Saturday

Atlanta United vs. Los Angeles FC — 5 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7 p.m.
FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids — 8 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew — 8:30 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City — 4 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET