ATLANTA — It was perhaps one of the most unusual things many in the press box at Mercedes-Benz Stadium had witnessed during this start to the 2018 MLS campaign.
In the first minute of the game, a hard challenge by Atlanta’s Chris McCann on Los Angeles Football Club midfielder Benny Feilhaber warranted an initial red card ejection by referee Ted Unkel. But, after Video Review of the play, Unkel overturned his own call and issued McCann a yellow card instead of the ejection.
“For me, it was a red card because he plays the ball, but if he doesn’t touch the ball, he clips [sic] my friend you know,” said LAFC forward Carlos Vela after the match. “It’s not always like if you touch the ball it’s not a red card.”
LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said the recession of the red card was “a terrible way to start the game.” In the end, it led to a 5-0 shellacking of LAFC by Atlanta, including a pair of last-minute penalties in the game’s dying minutes.
“The whole game is already out of whack,” Bradley said in his post-game news conference. “In that respect, starting a game that way it was like the referees couldn’t have done a worse job of getting a game going and making everyone on the field feel like a real game was going to take place.”
From that initial point, it seemed LAFC couldn’t organize any attack. They played tentative and restrained and not like the LAFC we saw in the first two games of the season and the first 60 minutes of their game with the LA Galaxy last week.
They were complacent and made silly mistakes in transition. They seemed to have lost their edge on the ball.
“I thought our initial response was good. I thought we did a good job of pressing and winning the ball back,” Bradley said. “On the day, I don’t think we were good enough on the attacking part of the field.”
The question of whether McCann deserved a red card or not is kind of secondary to the overall analysis of the game. Replay showed his studs were up and Bradley confirmed that was his feeling on the field. When I posed the question to him in post-game, he seemed to be hesitant to answer, but then …
“One foot for sure is going in exposing the studs,” Bradley said. “I am pretty sure that one foot went in that way.”
But, did that change how the team played the game? From the press box perspective, yes. LAFC lost any momentum it had built up in just one minute of a game.
It carried for the nearly 100 minutes left of the game.
“It’s a hard game we lost 5-0, but I think we are building a team and we have to be together,” Vela said. “It’s time to be strong, to be a man and to talk face-to-face and say what happened.”
The fact remains this is still a very young team in terms of playing together and, in some cases, playing either in MLS or professionally. LAFC will have to learn to get past these nuances of the game – refer back to the entrance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic last week – and control their own destiny on the field.
These are things that this team can easily overcome. But it will take time and experience together. I think, even though he was critical of the officiating, Bradley was right, Unkel and his team did a great job disrupting the flow of the game and it was in the first minute! Referees are not supposed to put themselves in a position to be that force.
Now, the question for Bradley and company is how they are going to get this team over the blowout and back on track.
What do you think? Post your comment below!