Diego Rossi

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LAFC blitzes DC United for 4-0 win to stay atop MLS table

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Carlos Vela started it off and Diego Rossi bagged a hat-trick as LAFC bulldozed D.C. United for a 3-0 road win at Audi Field to keep the Major League Soccer points leaders in charge.

Vela had a penalty saved in the 12th minute, but made amends almost immediately when he buried a left-footed curler in the 15th minute to open the scoring, willing his shot around his defender Steve Birnbaum and into the top-left corner past a bamboozled Bill Hamid. After his hat-trick against San Jose last time out, the goal is Vela’s seventh of the league season in just six games, leading the league over four players each with four.

Then Rossi was unleashed, and made his mark on the first half. In transition in the 27th minute, Vela on the right flank delivered an inch-perfect low cross to a streaking Rossi who somehow stretched to reach the ball and sneak it past Hamid’s near post, one the goalkeeper will probably want back.

He struck again just past the half-hour mark when Mark-Anthony Kaye snatched the ball in midfield and easily broke the back line with one pass to Rossi, who picked out the back of the net with a right-footed curler. He caught Frederic Brillant far too aggressively up the field and completely unable to get back and cover after the turnover.

The second half went from bad to worse for D.C. United as they lost captain Wayne Rooney after a very bad tackle lunging in studs up on the shins of Rossi near the touchline. The referee initially gave a yellow card, but after a very quick check of VAR – the speed of which told the tale – it was overturned to a straight red card, the fourth of his professional career and first with D.C. United.

D.C. manager Ben Olsen was furious about the call, requiring a lengthy talking to from the referee, but it was quite obviously a red card on replay. The hosts actually had their best opportunity of the match soon after falling a man down as Brilliant had a go with his right foot that required a kick-save off the line by Steven Beitashour on 57 minutes.

LAFC came inches from a fourth as Eduard Atuesta hit the top-left corner of the bar with a 67th minute free-kick, as close as you can get to scoring without finding the back of the net. They finally got the fourth in fitting fashion as Rossi grabbed his hat-trick off yet another giveaway just outside the D.C. box that looked far too easy for the visitors.

The win sees LAFC move to 16 points through six matches, four more points than anyone else in the league at this point. D.C., meanwhile, came into the day on a 15-game unbeaten run and level with Toronto and Columbus at the apex of the Eastern Conference, but their chance to take over the top spot slipped away, with Toronto sliding in front after a draw with Chicago and Columbus still to play New England later tonight.

Super sub Diomande gives LAFC late win over 10-man Sporting KC

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Sporting KC fouled LAFC and fouled them some more, and while it appeared they would escape Los Angeles with a point to show for it, the strategy backfired.

After picking up five first-half bookings and six overall, Roger Espinoza was sent off with six minutes to play in regulation, and LAFC took advantage of the man-up opportunity as Adama Diomande delivered the winner three minutes into stoppage time for a 2-1 win in the season opener. Sporting KC went in front before the break, but LAFC came from behind to earn all three points.

The first half was lively on both sides as Carlos Vela was dangerous throughout. Still, it was the visitors who went in front first at Banc of California Stadium as the LAFC defense was soft to allow Krisztian Nemeth to find space near the penalty area and Johnny Russell fed him for the 16th minute opener.

Both teams had plenty of chances in the first half, the biggest of which came in the 36th minute as Lee Nguyen fed a delicious through ball to Mark-Anthony Kaye who was clean on goal. The flag went up for offside, although the decision proved to be contentious upon replay, and the assistant probably should have left his flag down to let VAR provide any necessary decision after the fact. Vela’s constant presence and LAFC’s general attacking mentality forced Sporting KC into constant fouling, racking up 12 fouls and five yellow cards in the first half, the most first-half yellows since at least 2012 in an MLS match.

Just over a minute after halftime, with the home crowd still loudly behind its squad despite the deficit, Diego Rossi brought LAFC back level as he muscled past a helpless Graham Zusi to create space and rifled a pinpoint shot past a diving Tim Melia who got the faintest of fingertips to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.

LAFC nearly went in front on 57 minutes, but Eddie Segura’s powerful header off a corner was nervously parried by Meila before the rebound was cleared off the line by Seth Sinovic. The game plodded along until the 84th minute when, with a whopping six players on yellow cards, Sporting KC finally, inevitably fell a man down. In a moment of complete idiocy, Roger Espinoza needlessly went through the back of Kaye in midfield, an easy decision to show the Honduran his second yellow and reduce Sporting KC to 10 men. The marching orders are the ninth of Espinoza’s MLS career, tying him for second-most in league history and one behind the leader Jamison Olave.

That paved the way for the winner in the 94th minute. While it appeared Sporting KC was poised to earn a valuable road point amid heavy pressure, Diomande was on hand to deliver the deathblow off the bench. Having come on way back in the 59th minute, he collected a heavy touch from Jordan Harvey, switched to his right foot, and rifled a bullet just past the outstretched hands of Meila.

Goals galore put Philadelphia, Houston in US Open Cup final

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The 2018 U.S. Open Cup final matchup is set, and if the semifinals are any indication, the title bout will be a barnburner.

First, the Philadelphia Union reached its third U.S. Open Cup semifinal in the last five years with a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire. The winners deserved their victory, with the first goal a stunning feat of teamwork between Alejandro Bedoya, Borek Dockal, and goalscorer Cory Burke.

Bedoya with the audacious chipped delivery, and Burke with the strong, messy finish.

Burke did it again 11 minutes later, beating two defenders and the goalkeeper to put Philadelphia 2-0 up, and then C.J. Sapong picked up Philly’s third with minutes to spare thanks to great touchline work by Fabrice Picault. Philadelphia held just 44% possession, but obliterated Chicago in the shot count 22-8, with a 7-1 advantage on target.

The Union will take on the Houston Dynamo who topped Western Conference contenders LAFC on penalties in dramatic fashion after a 3-3 draw. Diego Rossi scored a hat-trick to complete a comeback after LAFC fell behind 3-1, with the equalizer coming four minutes into extra time.

Houston took a two-goal lead thanks to Memo Rodriguez who came off the bench and earned his way onto the scoresheet just three minutes later. He cut inside on his right foot and fired a low shot into the bottom left corner that LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller will want back.

With Houston up 3-1, Rossi grabbed his second in the 78th minute before the equalizer – a spectacular goal, as Rossi capitalized on a mistake by Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis. The 29-year-old netminder came off his line to punch the ball, and with the goal guarded by just three defenders on the line, Rossi headed it from a great distance out on the right edge of the penalty area, looping the ball over Willis and threading it behind the three defenders into the back of the net from a tight angle.

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After a goalless extra time, Houston redeemed itself and took it on penalties. The shootout went eight rounds, with LAFC missing for a second time in Round 8 as Latif Blessing’s weak effort was saved by Willis going down to the goalkeeper’s right.

Houston will be playing for its first U.S. Open Cup, as does Philadelphia who looks to avoid being the first team to lose three finals.

Royer’s brace keeps RBNY in Shield race; LAFC winless in 4

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The game in 100 words (or less): If you thought that losing head coach Jesse Marsch around the halfway point of the season would derail the New York Red Bulls’ bid for trophies in 2018, you were sorely mistaken. Marsch departed for an assistant’s job at RB Leipzig on July 6, and all the team inherited by Chris Armas has done since then is go 4W-0D-2L and stay within touching distance of Supporters’ Shield leaders Atlanta United. Following Sunday’s 2-1 win over Los Angeles FC, the second-place Red Bulls are just four points back of Atlanta with two games in hand. Daniel Royer has four goals in four games after bagging both goals (his 7th and 8th of the season), one in each half, for the home side. For the second time this season, LAFC are winless in four games and have taken just two of a possible 12 points during that period. Due to Sporting KC’s win over Houston on Saturday, they fell to fourth this weekend and trail first-place FC Dallas by six points.

[ MORE: Atlanta, TFC each blow a lead, settle for testy 2-2 draw ]

Three moments that mattered

39′ — Royer sweeps it home from the seat of his pants — Before we get to Royer’s cleanup job, let’s take a second to admire marvel at Kaku’s wonderfully floated diagonal ball into the box, with which Michael Murillo connected solidly. Tyler Miller couldn’t hold the ball, and Royer contorted his body to poke it home.

53′ — Vela picks out Rossi with X-ray vision, and it’s 1-1 — By my count, Carlos Vela splits four defenders with his cut to the left and the ensuing arrowed through ball for Rossi, who would have had to walk back to Southern California if he didn’t finish this one.

80′ — BWP sets up Royer for a tap-in — Marc Rzatkowski has very quietly been very good for New York the last month (he scored twice in a comeback win over Sporting Kansas City on July 14) and added another highlight to his reel with a visionary ball over the top for Bradley Wright-Phillips, who settled the ball with ease and roll it into the path of Royer for the winner.

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Man of the match: Daniel Royer

Goalscorers: Royer (39′, 80′), Rossi (53′)

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.