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Mike Petke downplays first meeting as manager against Red Bulls

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A bitter ending between Mike Petke and the New York Red Bulls created a messy divide between the former MLS defender and the organization back in early 2015, but he’s willing to put the bad blood in the past.

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On Saturday, Petke and his Real Salt Lake side — which he now manages — will host the Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah for the first time since he became the club’s head coach.

The 42-year-old coach downplayed putting any extra emphasis on the match, as RSL looks for its first win of the 2018 MLS season.

“If I was coming back to play in Red Bull Arena there would be a lot more importance to me,” Petke said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“There’s not hard feelings at all,” Petke said. “It’s going to be nice to see the couple of guys I was associated with. There’s nothing special about this game. It’s an opportunity for us.”

The Red Bulls have made waves over recent years with some of the club’s player and other personnel decisions, including Petke’s firing, but the former head coach says the Eastern Conference side has built a formidable academy and it is translating to on-field success.

“Since I left there’s been a huge improvement in the way they have changed their philosophies,” Petke said. “They don’t sign any more older foreign players. They build through their academy playing a set style.”

MLS Weekend Preview: 401 Derby and Petke’s reunion

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Major League Soccer has reached Week 3 of its 2018 season, though much of the focus has been on the CONCACAF Champions League.

That changes temporarily for Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls, the heroes of the tournament and two sides facing decent sub plots in league play at the weekend.

[ MORE: USMNT to host Bolivia ]

For FC Dallas, who fell flat against a Tauro side which was rocked by Club America, and injury-ravaged Seattle, it’s a chance to meet each other on Sunday for commiserations and clattering tackles.

Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC — 3 p.m. ET Saturday

The 401 Derby has had plenty of “throw out the records” moments, including Montreal’s surprising win at BMO Field last September, and this could be another beauty given the dislike for each other and TFC’s midweek trip to Mexico.

Toronto has claimed five of nine matches, with the Impact winning three, and five of the last six between the rivals have seen four or more combined goals. Get your poutine ready.

Sporting KC vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

The hosts are coming off a thrilling 4-3 win against Chicago, while San Jose played an enticing 3-2 encounter on Opening Day before finding a week off on the docket. That’s not to say we should expect fireworks, but coaches Mikael Stahre and Peter Vermes play forward-thinking and there’s reason to look forward to the later kickoff.

Real Salt Lake vs. New York Red Bulls — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Influential Red Bulls coach Mike Petke was hired to take over RSL four days after the last time these two met and this match will be fun despite it not taking place in Harrison.

Petke led RBNY captain Luis Robles and company to the club’s first Supporters’ Shield, and it should be an interesting night for the few players who remain with the club from Petke’s tenure.

“As a player, he had a ferocity to him that fans loved,” Robles told “He had a competitiveness that was huge, but then he also brings it as a coach. I think that’s why we were successful in 2013, because the same type of competitive streak he had.”

While RBNY will be flying high from a convincing CONCACAF Champions League win, RSL has been anything but strong in an 0-1-1 start complete with a 5-1 home beatdown from expansion LAFC.


DC United vs. Houston Dynamo — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew — 2 p.m. ET Saturday
Minnesota United vs. Chicago Fire — 2 p.m. ET Saturday
NYCFC vs. Orlando City — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Atlanta United vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders — 5 p.m. ET Sunday

Three things: VAR blunders; LAFC’s flaw; RBNY’s kids

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Another Saturday full of MLS action is in the books. Here are three things we learned today…

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Defending is MLS has been… well, we’ll just say, not great through two weeks, but that’s resulted in tons of goals — some great, some pretty comedic — if not the highest possible quality of soccer.

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews ]

A bonus point, right off the top, for maximum visibility…

VAR is… struggling… still

If video-assistant refereeing has been implemented to correct “clear and obvious errors” by a referee, what’s the point of spending all the money required to operate VAR if you’re not even going to have a look at what will likely go down as the most egregiously blown call of the season — even including those that are reviewed and corrected?

Let’s very quickly review the possible offside offenses in the build-up to the above goal: Steven Beitashour is only offside, but far enough offside that consulting the video replay would pretty clearly confirm he’s offside by a foot or more; Latif Blessing’s entire body is ahead of the ball, though the assistant referee’s view of the diminutive Ghanaian is obstructed by Beitashour and/or goalkeeper Nick Rimando — this is understandable, but also precisely the situation for which VAR was invented. If any of the four referees are unable to make the correct call for any variety of reasons in a moment that is truly game-changing (that’s their criteria), VAR is a simple solution.

Whether the center ref must currently choose to look at the replay on his own accord or at the behest of his video assistant, there should be a mandatory viewing of the replay if the video assistant indicates a clear and obvious error has occurred. No center ref should possess the power to wave away his assistant’s advice. If this is what occurred between Baldomero Toledo and Juan Guzman Jr., Toledo shouldn’t take charge of another MLS game for a good, long while.

RSL would have remained level with Los Angeles FC at 1-1 had Toledo spent two seconds looking at the footage, and the game could have played out very differently.

On the game’s other questionable refereeing decision (WATCH HERE), your periodic reminder that contact with an opponent isn’t required to have committed a foul:

Expansion teams no longer look like expansion teams

Speaking of LAFC — all VAR controversies notwithstanding — they were simply irresistible and downright unplayable at times during their 5-1 rout of RSL to collect their second away win (over legitimate MLS Cup contenders) in as games as they’ve played in team history.

Diego Rossi has three goals in two games (to go with three assists, meaning he assisted on every goal he didn’t score on Saturday); Carlos Vela bagged his first goal in MLS; Marco Ureña is far more dynamic and versatile than anyone could have known; and Latif Blessing has proven a game-discombobulating livewire. It’s all coming up Bob Bradley‘s boys these days.

However, tonight I’d like to note that RSL weren’t without ample opportunity to put up four or five goals of their own. It was something of a cakewalk through the heart of LAFC’s midfield for Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata, and had RSL’s composure been a bit higher in and around the penalty area, this game would have blown away the insanity that was Chicago Fire 3-4 Sporting Kansas City. The likes of Ola Kamara, Mauro Manotas and Josef Martinez will feast upon these chances.

Benny Feilhaber is a supremely talented player who also happens to be 33 years old and has never (successfully) played as part of a deeper midfield-two — a role which requires a ton of defensive work, positional discipline and a fair bit recovery speed and instincts — and Mark-Anthony Kaye is a 23-year-old rookie with 180 minutes of pro experience under his belt playing alongside Feilhaber. Laurent Ciman is fantastic at center back, which is great, because he’s going to have to be if Bradley persists without a veteran defensive midfielder to protect Ciman and Walker Zimmerman/Dejan Jakovic.

Who really runs New York?

The commonly accepted belief coming into the season was that New York City FC were the vastly superior side from the Empire/Garden States, that they were the ones with the chance to knock Toronto FC off their Eastern Conference perch. That’s likely still very true, but you might just be able to put Jesse Marsch’s New York Red Bulls right alongside them.

After impressing in CONCACAF Champions League play midweek, the Baby Bulls (eight starters under the age of 25, and six under 23) rotated their lineup and destroyed the Portland Timbers in their league opener on Saturday, to the tune of 4-0. 17-year-old Ben Mines, 23-year-old Carlos Rivas (times two) and old man (32 — being facetious here) Bradley Wright-Phillips, who came off the bench, scored the goals. Play your kids, indeed.

23-year-old playmaker Alejandro “Kaku” Romero, for whom the Red Bulls paid more than $6 million this winter, made his MLS debut and tallied his first assist in the process. And still, Vincent Bezecourt (24) and Sean Davis (25) were arguably the best players on the field, as they terrorized Diego Valeri and Co. to the tune of 9 tackles won, 4 interceptions, 21 recoveries and 4 clearances, while Valeri, the reigning MVP, completed just three passes inside the final third.

Portland, it should be said, are completely and hopelessly lost without Diego Chara on the field.

Sporting KC built for the road (again)

The first two weeks of the season have a couple things abundantly clear for Sporting Kansas City fans: there’s no playmaking no. 10 to speak of on the roster, and they’re still seeking more any contributions from their starting striker. Also: the midfield is exhausting to watch — let alone play against — but that’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation for a Peter Vermes-coached team.

Felipe Gutierrez has, in 180 minutes, shown himself to be a cut above most any opposition midfielder he’ll come up against this season. The Chilean international was Sporting’s lone bright spot in last week’s 2-0 loss to NYCFC and followed up his strong debut with a pair of goals, including the game-winner four minutes from full-time, against Chicago on Saturday. An elite level of defensive industry was expected, and Gutierrez has delivered.

Where he lacks, of course, is the part of the game where he’s required to see, and play, the final ball into the box. He is, after all, an all-action no. 8 and a semi-regular fixture for Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile — so, again, what do you expect? Gutierrez was the late-arriving third or fourth man into the box on just about every occasion Sporting managed to hold up play and create a chance from inside 20 yards.

For this reason, among others, Sporting are fantastically assembled to meet opponents head-first like a battering ram away from home, when there’s a bit more space to play into and a willing combatant — they thrived in moments of chaos against Chicago, particularly the cool heads of Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi. At home, though, they’re going to struggle once again when visiting sides sit inside their own defensive third and force Sporting to break them down.

LAFC continue scorching hot start with 5-1 win over RSL

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SANDY, Utah (AP) Diego Rossi scored two goals on Saturday and Los Angeles FC stayed undefeated as a franchise with a 5-1 rout of Real Salt Lake.

LAFC (2-0-0) secured the lead with a quick pair of first-half goals. Rossi evened it at 1-all in the 30th minute, slipping behind defender Demar Phillips, settling Marco Urena’s pass and slotting a right-footed shot over Nick Rimando’s outstretched leg. Latif Blessing made it 2-1 for LAFC in the 33rd, finishing a three-pass combo in the area with a tap-in.

Benny Feilhaber sent a right-footed shot through Rimando’s legs in the 47th minute. Rossi scored on a breakaway in the 81st, his third goal of the season, and Carlos Vela capped the scoring with a right-footed chip from the top of the area five minutes later.

Joao Plata gave RSL (0-1-1) the early lead in the 20th minute with a follow-up volley on his own saved penalty attempt.

Real Salt Lake conceded five goals at home for the first time in franchise history.

Three (more) things we learned on MLS opening day

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It’s a long, old season of soccer-ing still to be soccer-ed, but we’re 60 percent of the way through the opening weekend of MLS 2018, which means it’s time to start drawing grand conclusions.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright talked us through the first three lessons of the newborn season this afternoon. Now, a look at three games this evening…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews

There should have been an all-out bidding war for Justin Meram

Orlando City SC only got a draw against D.C. United on Saturday, but Jason Kreis is surely over the moon with regards to the dominant performance of Justin Meram, just one — and the most expensive — of the Lions’ major offseason acquisitions. Despite the fact he and Orlando were a man down for 50 minutes, Meram, who was very clearly given the freest of roles in the absence of Sacha Kljestan (suspension), Dom Dwyer and Josue Colman (injuries), was far and away the best player on the field.

At right, you can see both Meram’s attempted passes (key passes are in yellow — there’s four of them, not including the inch-perfect through ball to Jonathan Spector which earned Meram a secondary assist on Orlando’s 93rd-minute equalizer) and attempted dribbles. To say, those success percentages are high, would be a massive understatement. There’s still a ton to be worked out by Kreis and Co., as far as the long-term formation and system go, and Meram’s versatility will give his new coach an endless list of options. If Saturday’s showing can be replicated another 20-24 times this season, the Lions have themselves a real darkhorse MVP candidate.

As an aside, 21 other teams had the opportunity to pay a small fortune in order to acquire Meram this winter, but very few — if any — teams not named Orlando were reported to have engaged in serious negotiations with Columbus Crew SC. Shame on every last one of them.

Justen Glad is next-level good

It should come as very little surprise to anyone who watched him in 2016, and particularly in 2017, that Justen Glad — he of more than 4,500 MLS minutes before his 21st birthday (last Wednesday) — is easily a top-five (if not -two or -three) center back in the league already.

Real Salt Lake found themselves under a constant flow of pressure during their 1-1 draw with FC Dallas — in truth, RSL were horribly unlucky to only come away with a point after Glad’s partner, Marcelo Silva, scored an own goal four minutes from full-time — and Glad was the undisputed star of the defensive show.

Glad’s final stat line for the night: 7 clearances, 4 interceptions, 2 blocks, 2 recoveries — all while completing nearly 80 percent of his 35 passes attempted against an extremely front-foot FCD side which trailed for more than an hour.

There were times over the last two years where Glad relied almost solely upon his brilliant recovery speed and instincts, but 90 minutes into 2018 — on the back of an almost faultless finish to last season — he’s in complete control of RSL’s entire defensive, he’s seeing, reading and reacting to threats long before they materialize, and he’s arguably the most important player on a team that has the look of Supporters’ Shield challengers.

I’m just really sorry for you, Revs fans

Here’s the thing about hiring a first-time head coach: he’s never been a head coach before, and there’s no way to possibly know whether or not he’s actually qualified for the job. That’s where I’m at — and where everyone else should be, too — with Brad Friedel. Couple that with the fact that the New England Revolution’s roster is an unmitigated disaster zone, and it’s going to be a long, long season in Boston Foxborough. The season that just might never end began on Saturday, with a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and only nine players on the field at full-time.

Sure, there’s plenty of exciting attacking talent — from Lee Nguyen, to Diego Fagundez, to Juan Agudelo and Krisztian Nemeth — but there’s a whole other half of the field that hasn’t been blessed with a single successful signing since… I don’t know, Jermaine Jones, all the way back in 2014.

It’s true: sometimes you really do have to completely bottom out before you can get better.

Also true: you can actively facilitate such a process by acknowledging your own failures and shortcomings, blow the whole thing up on your own accord, and get to the other side a whole lot quicker. Just think about it.