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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.

Americans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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One of the youngest Americans playing abroad had arguably the biggest weekend of any of his USMNT-eligible teammates.

Playing in his first derby for Ajax against PSV in league play, Dest started and set up teammate Dusan Tadic for a goal. Interestingly, with the Netherlands FA working to get Dest to commit to the Oranje moving forward, Dest had the chance to match up against Denzel Dumfries, the current first choice right back for the Netherlands.

The other big story? Christian Pulisic didn’t play again. More on that below.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic made the bench but didn’t appear for a third-straight match. Lampard explained to our own JPW why Pulisic has been on the sidelines.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback returned to training following a serious groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return yet, however.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson is a fixture at Wigan. The young left back started and played the full 90 minutes as Wigan picked up a win over a top-ten opponent, Charlton Athletic

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain started and played the full 90 minutes in Hull City’s 3-0 win over Luton Town.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender started at centerback and went the full 90, picking up a yellow card in QPR’s 2-1 win over Millwall.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Carter-Vickers started and went the full 90 minutes as Stoke City picked up just its second point of the season in a scoreless draw with Brentford.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes made his second-straight start after coming back from injury, and his first 90 minutes on the pitch as Derby County secured a last-gasp 1-1 draw with league-leading Leeds United.

EFL League One

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – Gooch started and played the full 90 minutes, though Sunderland needed a last-minute goal from Aiden McGeady to draw at Bolton. .

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie started, picked up a yellow card in the second half and then was substituted in the 76th minute, before Schalke scored a late winner in a 2-1 victory over Mainz.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen started and played all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 2-1 defeat to rivals Borussia Monchengladbach. Steffen recorded a handful of incredible, point-blank saves to keep Fortuna in the game. Morales did not dress again.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  With an injury crisis, Sargent got the start and played 80 minutes. Unfortunately for Sargent and Werder, they were routed by Leipzig – even without Tyler Adams.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams remains inactive with a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson didn’t make Borussia Monchengladbach’s 18 for their match against Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The veteran defender entered off the bench in the 83rd minute as Eintracht secured a massive 2-2 draw with Borussia Dortmund.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – The 24-year-old midfielder started and played the full 90 minutes for Greuther Furth. Unfortunately, they lost 2-0 to league-leading Stuttgart in the 2. Bundesliga.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started at right back in his first edition of “De Topper,” starring as Ajax drew 1-1 at PSV Eindhoven. Dest played the full 90 minutes and had an assist on Dusan Tadic’s goal.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — The 21-year-old striker came off the bench in the 71st minute of VVV’s 1-0 loss to Willen II.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback was left out of FC Emmen’s 18 once again. 

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a muscular injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Siebatcheu made the 18 but did not feature in Rennes 1-1 draw with Lille.

Honorable Mentions:

Chris Richards, Bayern Munich II – The young Alabama native started and played the full 90 minutes as FC Bayern II defeated FC Ingolstadt, which was in the 2. Bundesliga just last season.

Andrija Novakovich, Frosinone – The 23-year-old striker, now in Serie B after five seasons on the books with Reading, made his first start for Frosinone, going 55 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Venezia.

Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund U-19 – Reyna started, scored, and played 77 minutes in Dortmund U-19s 6-1 win over Leverkusen. The 16-year-old attacker also scored earlier in the week in a 2-1 win over Barcelona U-19s in the UEFA Youth League.

Luca De La Torre, Fulham Reserves – Luca de la Torre is still stuck at Spurs without getting first team minutes, but he had a night to remember in the PL2. The 21-year-old midfielder scored the first, and game-winning-goal in a 90-minute performance as Fulham beat Reading U-23s, 5-4.

Serie A Roundup: Roma, Napoli, Lazio all win

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Edin Dzeko‘s last-gasp winner for AS Roma headlines a busy day in Serie A action on Sunday.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Bologna 1-2 Roma

Roma kept its unbeaten start to the 2019-2020 Serie A season thanks to a 94th-minute Edin Dzeko winner. The American-owned club first took the lead in the 49th minute through another former Premier League player, Aleksandar Kolarov. The Serbian delightfully placed a free kick at the top of the box over the wall and into the top corner.

However, Bologna quickly capitalized after Kolarov bundled over Roberto Soriano in the box, leading to a penalty kick call that VAR confirmed. Nicola Sansone waited for Roma goalkeeper Pau Lopez to move and then slotted the ball into the right corner to tie the match.

Roma went down to ten men in the 85th minute when new signing Gianluca Mancini, a centerback, picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Felipe Santander as he was about to run into the box. And yet, even though Roma was on the ropes, Dzeko popped up in a pocket of space at the top of the six-yard box and powered home a header just before the final whistle to win the game. With the win, Roma jumps into the top four with eight points from four games.

Lecce 1-4 Napoli

Don’t tell Fernando Llorente that his best days are behind him.

Having left Tottenham in search of more first team minutes, Llorente just scored for the second-game straight as he bagged a brace in Napoli’s rout on the road over Lecce. At 34-years old, the crafty veteran may be the perfect age for star striker in Italy, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Quagliarella (26 goals last year at age 36) all at a similar age.

Llorente took advantage of his experience in the 28th minute, latching onto a blocked shot from Arkadiusz Milik that dribbled into the middle of the box, leaving Llorente for an easy finish past Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel.

VAR gave Napoli a controversial penalty kick in the 35th minute off a handball from Panagiotis Tachtsidis in the box. Lorenzo Insigne stepped up to take the penalty kick and his spot kick was saved expertly by Gabriel. However, the referee awarded a do-over after seeing Gabriel was a step off his line before the ball was kicked. Insigne didn’t miss on the second attempt, putting Napoli up 2-0.

Fabian Ruiz in the second half curled home an absolute beauty to put Napoli up 3-0. Lecce cut the decide by one with a penalty kick goal, but Llorente gave Napoli their three-goal lead again with another one-on-one finish from close.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 3-0 SPAL

Sampdoria 1-0 Torino

Atalanta 2-2 Fiorentina

Lazio 2-0 Parma

What should Emery do with Xhaka?

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Arsenal fans have directed their ire at many different people, but aside from manager Unai Emery, many fans have been criticizing the recent play of midfielder Granit Xhaka.

Named Arsenal captain this summer after Laurent Koscielny‘s insubordination and eventual departure, Xhaka looked set to take Arsenal to the next level this summer, with three stars up top and a veteran defense behind him. However, in Premier League matches where Arsenal has struggled, it seems that Xhaka has been right in the middle of it. Sometimes, that’s just because of his holding midfield position. Other times, it’s because he didn’t make the play that was necessary.

[READ: 10-man Arsenal beats Aston Villa in a thriller]

Take Saturday’s eventual 3-2 win by Arsenal over Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium. Despite having a decent game by all accounts, Xhaka allowed Ahmed El Mohamady to run right past him on a mazy run through the middle of the field, eventually centering to Wesley which gave Aston Villa a 2-1 lead. It gave the visitors the advantage yet again right after Arsenal equalized.

Xhaka had every chance to try and make a tackle, or at the least bring El Mohamady down farther from goal if there was no choice but to foul and give up a free kick. Instead, Xhaka just followed El Mohamady before passing him off to a teammate in the box, who was equally as poor.

Not long after, Xhaka was substituted, with some Arsenal fans raining boos down on their captain. And whether it had to do with him or not, Arsenal went from a goal down to a goal up once Xhaka left the field.

According to manager Unai Emery, Xhaka was taken off in the 72nd minute not due to his performance, but to bring on fresh legs. It was a double substitution, with Dani Ceballos also coming off in place of Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock.

“My opinion is we need our supporters and we need our supporters helping each player but our responsibility is to transmit our capacity, our spirit, our commitment and behavior,” Emery said after the game. “And Xhaka is doing that. He played very well on Thursday and also last week in Watford he played with a good individual performance. Today I changed him because on Thursday he played 90 minutes and prefer to use fresh players for today a chance for him but for me Xhaka is very good player for us. He has a very big commitment here. He is improving and I am not asking the people to support him but I am sure that he is going to achieve the best thing individually and collectively for the supporters to help him.”

Just one week earlier, Xhaka claimed that his Arsenal teammates – and presumably himself as well – were “scared” in the second half as Watford stormed back for a 2-2 draw. Man City’s 8-0 pummeling of Watford makes that draw look even worse in retrospect.

If Arsenal is “scared,” and they’re giving up two goals in two straight matches each to two of the worst defensive teams in the league, then perhaps the club captain isn’t doing enough. It seems that although Xhaka has experience, he’s going through a rough patch of form in the Premier League – he looked good in Europa League action – and might do well with a match off.

Luckily for Arsenal, if Emery does agree to give Xhaka a rest, he has a talented player in Lucas Torreira who will run himself into the ground for the team. In addition, he’d likely have stopped that run from El Mohamady instead of letting him glide into the box with hardly a challenge.

It appears Unai Emery is publicly sticking with Xhaka. Arsenal needs Xhaka at his best to make it back into the top four. But right now, he’s clearly not there, and he needs to figure things out on the training pitch so he can shine once again.

Neymar scores late again in PSG win

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Paris Saint-Germain fans may have to return to liking Neymar again.

For the second consecutive Ligue 1 match, Neymar scored late to give PSG all three points in a massive 1-0 win at Lyon. With the win, PSG moved into a three-point lead in the Ligue 1 table.

[READ: Lampard explains why Pulisic has remained on the bench]

After being involved in the buildup in the 87th minute, Neymar found a pocket of space at the top of the box. After receiving the ball and facing up his defenders, he made a quick move to his left, took two steps and fired a strike into the low far corner to put PSG in front.

PSG fans have come out pretty clearly since the summer when news reports surrounding Neymar and his camp made it clear he preferred to leave PSG for a return to Barcelona. It appeared he was willing to give up on his dream to lead the line and be a new star for a team in another league, but the transfer never happened, mainly for financial reasons.

And yet, despite missing most of preseason recovering from his ankle injury suffered on international duty, Neymar returned to the side for coach Thomas Tuchel and has scored two massive goals to help earn PSG six points.

To Neymar’s credit, it appears he’s put his head down since the end of the transfer window and is working hard for his club and his teammates. Despite his hatred from fans and general observers for some of his on-the-field and off-the-field antics, he seems to have the trust of his PSG teammates, and there were many reports that Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi were the ones pushing for Neymar to come back from within Barcelona.

Even if he can’t win over some PSG fans for threatening to leave the club, more goals like these will certainly endear him to fans who may have been indifferent over the transfer saga.

Watch the goal below: