5 thoughts from Week 9: Stadiums, VAR, Orlando, hot seats, & more
Looking back on Week 9, there was a lot to sort through. Back of California Stadium was nice but it's hard not to think of Columubs Crew Stadium with every new stadium opening. Elsewhere: How good is Orlando? How to fix VAR? Is Curtin's job safe? Brian Sciaretta takes a look.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedTHE NINTH WEEK of the MLS Season is in the books and it featured a new stadium opening, Atlanta rolling, questionable officiating, and more.
April 30, 2018
April 30, 2018
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All eyes in the league were on downtown Los Angeles as LAFC played its home opener and the unveiling of the new, state of the art Banc of California Stadium.
Banc of California Stadium opens
The game wasn’t great but the home crowd went home happy as LAFC found a stoppage time winner when Seattle keeper Stefan Frei committed a major error on a Laurent Ciman’s free kick when he failed to stay in front of the ball and allowed it to squeeze past him into the net.
The stadium was great and it came across nicely on television. It might be the best stadium in the league but it isn’t the most important. The most important was Columbus Crew stadium which opened on May 15, 1999.
With Columbus Crew Stadium, MLS began to take foothold with physical assets and infrastructure. It was a genuine turning point. Despite its importance, it makes for a sad reality that less than 20 years later, the Columbus Crew might soon leave not just the stadium, but the state of Ohio.
The opening of Banc of California Stadium is a great moment but it’s quite a dichotomy when you see the glitz and glamor of the newcomers in the league and the hard times for the fans of one of the teams that built the league. Crew stadium helped bring about a sense of stability to an entire league. But the team that helped to secure that stability is now the most vulnerable in the league.
Red Bulls – Galaxy game and VAR
LAFC was the soccer talk in the City of Angels but the Galaxy had a sell-out for its game against the Red Bulls on Saturday night.
The game was entertaining but controversial, again for the failure to use VAR for a decisive play. The Red Bulls scored the first two goals of the game and the Galaxy had two goals called back – rightfully.
But in the 83rd minute, Galaxy defender David Romney was whistled for a handball in the box. Replays would show that the ball did not hit his arm, but rather his back. Kaku Gamarra converted the penalty to give the Red Bulls a 3-2 win.
Critics of VAR have a point. What good is it serving if bad calls are still being made at important moments? There is nothing wrong with the VAR technology. It can get the calls right and as time goes by, VAR can be used at a quicker pace to prevent delay in the game. The problem with VAR is almost always when referees make the decision not to use it.
Some answers seem obvious – such as the mandatory use of VAR whenever a penalty is awarded that is slightly controversial.
As for other elements in the game, the Red Bulls were solid for long stretches in the first half but fell apart as soon as the Galaxy netted its first goal. But Kaku is finally growing into this team and the Red Bulls should be able to compete near the top of the talented Eastern Conference yet again.
For the Galaxy, the team cannot put together a complete game yet. Even in the dramatic win over LAFC, it still had to rally from a three goal deficit. Zlatan can produce magic but the team is still not able play to the sum of its parts on a consistent basis. The good news for the Galaxy is that with the Western Conference so week this year, it has time to figure it out.
How good is Orlando?
Everyone knew that the Eastern Conference would be brutal in 2018 with NYCFC, Toronto, Atlanta, and the Red Bulls. But Orlando City SC? After just one point from its first three games, Jason Kreis’ team has pulled off five straight wins to move into third place.
It remains to be seen how good Orlando is but moves are working. With rookie standout Chris Mueller and veteran Justin Meram providing a solid attack out wide and Sacha Kljestan settling into the Orlando system, the midfield is starting to click.
Orlando is getting the wins but every one of the games during the run, with the exception of the 2-0 victory over Philadelphia, has been tough and close. The team is good but not deep and it has still not faced any tough, full strength opponent yet. Fortunes can change quickly and it remains to be seen how good Orlando really is. But if the team stays healthy, it can easily get into the playoffs.
Atlanta’s impressive rally
Right now, it appears as if beating Atlanta at Mercedes Benz Stadium is going to take a combination of luck, form, and skill. Few teams in the league have what it takes to pull that off.
On Saturday, Montreal actually carried a 1-0 lead into the 70th minute but it was completely against the run of play. It seemed inevitable that Atlanta was going to eventually breakthough in a big way. Sure enough, Atlanta did just that with four goals in the final 20 minutes to win 4-1.
ICYMI: Atlanta United defeated Montreal 4-1 thanks to two BEAUTIFUL free kicks from Kevin Kratz pic.twitter.com/XvXjUiQuk8— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) April 28, 2018
For the game, Atlanta had 72% of possession and outshot Montreal 20-6. Even more impressive is just the number of different scoring options that Atlanta has this year. Individually, an opponent can stop any one of Martinez, Barco, Almiron, Villalba, Gressel, or Nagbe. But stopping all of them? Very few teams in the league can do that.
Curtin’s seat gets cooler
At any time, there are always managers in any league who are at risk of getting fired. In MLS, there was some talk about Jason Kreis at Orlando after his slow start. But five straight wins will cool that talk quickly.
But how about Philadelphia and Jim Curtin? The Union has been a mess to start this year. While trying to break in a bunch of young defenders, its attack was the bigger problem.
On Saturday, the Union hosted DC United and with just one point in its previous four games, this seemed like a game Jim Curtin needed to win. Fortunately for him, he got it and many struggling players had strong performances. CJ Sapong finally buried a nice chance, Borak Tockal scored after receiving criticism for his recent outings.
Philadelphia actually has more talent than its record reflects. Its front six boasts impressive international experience and David Accam has been all-star quality. DC United was poor and Philadelphia was noticeably much better than the close 3-2 win would indicate. Dockal was significantly improved and everyone seemed far more comfortable that in recent losses.
As for the hot seat, how about Ben Olsen? Yes, the team is playing mostly on the road right now and the second half of the season will be full of home games. But this does not look anything close to being a playoff team right now. Even on the road, five points in seven games is going to raise questions.