MLS played another abbreviated schedule this past week, clearing space for both US Open Cup skirmishes and World Cup qualifiers. But the five league games on the docket delivered more than their share of action and drama. Leading the way, in both departments, were the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Portland rode a golazo from attacker Darlington Nagbe to an impressive 1-0 win over Western Conference-leading FC Dallas in a game that was more wide open than its score suggests. Their Cascadia rivals Vancouver got two great goals from striker Kenny Miller to outslug New England 4-3 in a game that seesawed their way after Revolution defender Andrew Farrell was sent off in the 23rd minute with his team leading 2-0.
A red card also flashed in Colorado, where the Rapids fell to San Jose in a hot-tempered match that ended with a confrontation between the teams’ coaches. Elsewhere, a weary Columbus side surprised Eastern Conference leaders Montreal 2-0, and Toronto edged D.C. United 2-1 in a meeting of one-win strugglers.
Earlier in the week, the USOC quarterfinals were set, with six MLS teams making the field (and two eliminated by lower-division sides), and CONCACAF’s final six World Cup contenders completed another round of qualifying play.
There, MLSers were involved as Honduras dropped Jamaica 2-0, Costa Rica held Mexico to a 0-0 draw at Azteca (the third such scoreless draw for Mexico this round), and the US cruised to a 2-0 win over Panama to move to the top of the Hexagonal standings at the halfway mark.
Of the five MLS games, three involved moments of controversy, two of which directly impacted the outcome of the matches. Was justice served? Let’s take a look.
Down Goes DeLeon
Nineteen minutes into D.C.’s home game against fellow strugglers Toronto FC, United midfielder Nick DeLeon launched a surging run from deep in his own half, blowing past two TFC players and into the Reds' box, where he was challenged by Reds defender Gale Agbossoumonde.
DeLeon went down, and the referee pointed to the spot immediately, over the protests of Agbossoumonde.
The replay shows DeLeon jumping to avoid Agbossoumonde and then going down – possibly from fatigue; he had covered about 70 yards on his run. It certainly didn’t look like contact from the Toronto defender put him down, as the replay revealed little to no contact between the players.
It was, at best, a soft penalty, but fortunately for TFC fans, it didn’t impact the outcome of the game as the Reds rallied for a 2-1 victory to snap their 11-game winless streak, earn their first road win of the year and extend D.C.’s winless skid to a club-record 13 games.
New England jumped out to an ideal start against the Whitecaps on Saturday night, getting goals from Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe to take a 2-0 lead after just 20 minutes in Vancouver.
But three minutes after Rowe’s goal, Revs defender Andrew Farrell was whistled for a foul in the box on Vancouver striker Kenny Miller, who was in alone on goal, and shown a straight red for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
In real time, it looked unequivocally like the right call, but replays, which usually serve to clear things up, only muddied the waters here. Farrell’s hand touched Miller’s back, for sure, but it was more of a hand-check than a shove, and Miller seemed to embellish the contact.
But then there was also the matter of their lower bodies: Did Farrell clip Miller’s feet and send him toppling over, or did Miller get his own feet tangled together and go down?
It’s difficult to tell for sure, but considering how Farrell was beaten by the initial ball, and given the way the play looked in real time, New England couldn’t really complain that the call went against them. And they didn’t; they’ve only lamented their response to the ejection, which was to give up three more goals after the penalty and ultimately fall 4-3.
Atiba the Hun
The weekend’s other red card came out for Atiba Harris’ rash challenge on Alan Gordon in the 18th minute of Colorado’s match against visiting San Jose.
As Gordon dribbled away from the Colorado goal, toward the sideline, with a Rapids player tight to his back, Harris inexplicably lunged at his legs from the side. The challenge was late, dangerous, and for the reasons just mentioned, unnecessary.
Referee Jorge Gonzalez did consult with his assistant on the sideline before going for the red, but this one was pretty clear cut: Harris deserved the ejection.
San Jose went on to win 2-1, ending the Rapids’ unbeaten run at six games, and giving interim coach Mark Watson a win in his debut.