WASHINGTON – Five games into his first season of MLS play, and D.C. United left back Cristian Fernández is still learning the ropes.
The former Racing Santander defender, who spent nearly a decade playing top-flight soccer in Spain, has found the adjustment to MLS’ physical, gritty style of play to be an ongoing process. After a lively training session on Tuesday, Cristian took a few minutes to reflect on his relationship with his teammates and the differences between play in Europe and the US.
He also turned a critical eye towards MLS’ standards of officiating, noting a perceived lack of consistency in the way United’s matches have been called.
"it’s true that you have no idea what kind of referee you're going to get," Fernández told MLSsoccer.com. "They’re all very unpredictable. I’ve noticed that sometimes they’ll allow a challenge that could really even be a yellow card, and then they’ll turn around and make a call like the yellow they gave me on Saturday which wasn’t really anything, honestly.
"In Europe, you have a general idea what kind of ref you’re getting in each game. I think that in this league maybe there’s less of a solid line as far as consistency. They all seem to have a different set of criteria for how they call a game. It’s a little confusing sometimes.”
Fernández is a key piece for United, part of a completely re-formed back line that’s come together remarkably fast given the circumstances. After allowing three goals in their opening match, United’s defenders have only allowed a trio of goals in their past four performances. Though Ben Olsen sees his share of issues with his starting left back, the head coach thinks the full back has responded well.
"We’ve had enough guys from overseas through here to know that it takes [time] to adjust” Olsen said on Tuesday. "Each one is different. I do think he’s feeling pretty comfortable now. I think the first game or two I think maybe he underestimated MLS – I think, though, that he's stepped his game up the last two or three games to where it needs to be.”
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So what, in particular, makes playing in MLS different than La Liga? Aside from obvious financial differences and variations in quality of play, Fernández was quick to rattle off a list of other factors.
"More than anything, on a tactical and technical level it’s much different,” he noted. "In Europe a lot of stock is put in those two aspects – here, it’s much more physical, with a lot of contact. I think maybe MLS is a little more exciting in certain ways, with the parity of the teams, where in Europe it’s clear that there are certain teams who will probably win their leagues."
Overall, the newcomer is continuing to integrate into his new team and league.
"I think the team and I are both adjusting,” he said. "It’s an evolving relationship. Every day it gets better -- but I do think we have a ways to go, I think things can still improve quite a bit."