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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.

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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.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.