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.

Mexicans abroad: Weekend roundup

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made sure to let Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini know that he made no mistake in handing him the No. 9, opening his account in the new season.

Over in Portugal, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues to gain minutes and impress, while Hector Moreno scores in a friendly with his new Qatari club.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico and the United States this weekend.

Premier League

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, West Ham — Rolling back the years, Chicharito… The 31-year-old started, played 83 minutes, and made scored his first goal of the season for West Ham in their 1-1 draw away to Brighton.

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Wolves and Jimenez take on Manchester United on Monday.

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera featured on Atletico’s bench, but was not called on by Diego Simeone in Los Colchonero’s 1-0 win over Getafe. His La Liga remains on standby.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis — The fulcrum of Betis’ midfield last season, Guardado didn’t suit up for the Sevilla-based side’s opening 2-1 loss to Real Valladolid.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old, who many are hoping will have a breakout season, was left on the bench by first-year coach Rubi.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — The soon-to-be 28-year-old was a fixture for Celta last year. It looks like that trend will repeat itself this time around with Araujo starting and playing 90 minutes against Real Madrid in the 3-1 loss.

Eredivisie

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, PSV Eindhoven — Chucky might have already played his last game for PSV. Multiple reports indicate the 24-year-old winger is set to become the most expensive Mexican player ever in a $46 million move to Napoli.

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Unlike last year, it seems PSV will lean on “Guti” a lot more this season. On Sunday, the midfielder started and played all 90 minutes in PSV’s 2-0 victory over Heracles.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez made his Eredivisie debut in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of VVV-Venlo, playing the final 27 minutes as a center back.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona — Corona, for a second consecutive week, started and registered 90 minutes in a Porto victory. He is the lone Mexican in the Portuguese first division following Herrera’s and Antonio Briseño’s respective departures this summer.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte Waregem take on Charleroi on Monday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   In a friendly against Al Khor, the 31-year-old defender scored his first goal for the Qatari club. In two seasons with Real Sociedad, Moreno scored two goals.

Diego Reyes, Fenerbahçe  The center back is reportedly not in the Turkish giants’ plans, and Tigres sounds like his next destination.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — Not a household name, the fullback continues to add minutes with Roda, which he joined this summer. On Friday, he played 90 minutes in Roda’s 4-0 loss to Volendam.

Americans Abroad: Weekend roundup

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Christian Pulisic made his much-anticipated home debut as Chelsea secured their first point of the season. Starting and playing 71 minutes, the Pennsylvania native struggled to make a difference for the Blues, though, failing to record a shot.

Meanwhile in Sweden, a familiar face proved to be the X factor for his team. Romain Gall, 24, scored and recorded two assists in Malmo’s 5-0 win on Sunday. The midfielder joins Julian Green and Joel Sonora as the only Americans to score abroad this weekend in top-tier leagues.

Between the sticks, Zack Steffen opened his Bundesliga account with an impressive nine saves in Dusseldorf’s victory.

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

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — The 20-year-old made his home debut in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City, but failed to record a shot in 71 minutes of play.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback remains sidelined as he continues to recover from a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-0 loss to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — 90 minutes and a clean sheet for the 24-year-old in Reading’s 3-0 win over Cardiff City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain recorded another 90 minutes in Hull City’s draw against Brentford this weekend. Surely, Lichaj will continue to feature game in and game out.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — After two positive matches to start the season, Cameron and QPR fell 2-0 to Bristol City. The Massachusetts native played all 90 minutes.

Tim Ream, Fulham — 90 minutes and a start for Ream in Fulham’s 2-1 loss to Huddersfield Town on Friday. From the looks of it, the American center back will be staple defender for the recently-relegated club.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — After starting for consecutive weeks, Haji came off the bench and only featured for 19 minutes against Ajax.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — The young defender played and contributed well for 90 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 victory over VVV Venlo. Dest continues to impress Ajax’s coaching staff, apparently.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback played 47 minutes against Heerenveen. FC Emmen won 2-0 on Saturday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — No start for Weah this time. In Lille’s 1-0 loss to Amiens, the 19-year-old came off the bench and played six minutes.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordan-Siebatcheu, like Weah, had a very similar weekend: coming on as a substitute and playing 17 minutes. Rennes, however, won 2-1 over PSG.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke — In Schalke’s first game of the season, the midfielder started and played 85 minutes in the 0-0 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Zack Steffen, Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Steffen and Morales started and went all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s praiseworthy win against Werder Bremen. Steffen, in particular, put his unquestioned shot-stopping abilities to use. The Bundesliga debutant finished with nine saves.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old saw some minutes on the field, coming off the bench in the 83rd minute.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson is not slated to be a constant starter for Mönchengladbach this season, at least that’s what Saturday showed us. The 31-year-old only played 27 minutes.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt Chandler made the 18 but did not play for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 1-0 win over Hoffenheim.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams was a no-go for RB Leipzig in their 4-0 win over Union Berlin.

Honorable Mentions:

Romain Gall, Malmo  After seeing a few minutes here and there, the USMNT capped midfielder scored and assisted twice in Malmo’s 5-0 victory Falkenbergs. If Gall wants to be a part of Greg Berhalter’s plans, however, more of this will be needed.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth The 24-year-old scored the lone goal in Greuther Furth’s victory.

Joel Sonora, Arsenal de Sarandi — Sonora played 82 minutes opened his account with Arsenal de Sarandi in their 3-0 over Defense y Justicia.

Reports: Napoli agree record fee for Hirving Lozano

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Mexico’s most expensive player ever will soon be Hirving “Chucky” Lozano.

According to multiple reports, PSV Eindhoven and Napoli have agreed to a $46 million transfer fee for the Mexican international. According to Sky Sport 24‘s Francesco Modugno, the 24-year-old will travel to Rome on Tuesday and complete his medical on Wednesday morning, ending the Serie A club’s summer-long pursuit.

Lozano will reportedly sign a five-year deal with Gli Azzurri worth $4 million per year plus bonuses.

Over the course of the past few months, Napoli were also linked with Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. In the end, Carlo Ancelotti, who is planning to give Juventus a run for their money this season, is adding the speedy winger to his attacking corps that features the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik.

Despite coming off injured in the 50th minute against ADO Den Haagg in his last PSV appearance, it is believed it won’t influence Lozano’s medical. He will break the transfer record for a Mexican player set by Raul Jimenez in his summer move to Wolverhampton Wanderers from Benfica worth $43 million.

Having sold Memphis Depay for nearly $39 million in 2015 to Manchester United, Lozano’s departure would set a new record for the Dutch giants as well.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win first opener in four years

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Spain’s top flight is two days into a new season, and here’s a roundup of all of Sunday’s action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Getafe

It wasn’t done in aesthetically pleasing fashion, but Atletico Madrid won their first opening season game in four years.

In fact, the first half was rough with both Atletico and Getafe loosing players to straight red cards. Getafe’s Jorge Molina saw red for a studs-up challenge in the 38th minute, while Renan Lodi was asked to leave the field in his debut for Los Colchoneros. 

Summer signing Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference for Atletico, however. Assisted by former Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, the team’s academy product scored early on in the 23rd minute – the goal made Atletico one of eight clubs to start the season with three points.

$140 million signing Joao Felix also made his La Liga debut, and impressed the home crowd with a dazzling run in the second half that ended drawing a penalty for Atletico. Morata missed.

Not the smoothest of games for Diego Simeone’s side, but like Real Madrid, they already have an edge on Barcelona.

Espanyol 0-2 Sevilla 

Julen Lopetegui can finally breathe (and coach) in peace.

Following a series of unfortunate events with the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Lopetegui and Sevilla started their new era in a winning way.

Sergio Reguilon got things started for the visiting side with a tap in inside the six-yard box. And in the final minutes, no stranger to stepping up for Sevilla, Nolito slotted one past Diego Lopez.

With only two shots on frame to speak for them, Espanyol was one, two steps behind Los Hispalenses, who look for another top-six finish in Spain’s top-flight league.

Sevilla’s young quest for that continues as they travel to Granada. Meanwhile, Espanyol have no time to waist with a Europa League play-off bout against Ukrainian side Zorya lined up midweek.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Real Valladolid

Alaves 1-0 Levante