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Major League Soccer

Refs, a Rookie, and Jermaine Jones in MLS Spotlight

Sometimes you're down so low there's nowhere to go but up. That's the case with MLS, which didn't display a sparkling product over the weekend...but at least it was a step in the right direction. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 19, 2016
7:15 AM

THIS PAST WEEKEND was a step in the right direction for Major League Soccer, but that is not saying much. The overall quality of the games was better and some of the goals scored were high quality, but the poor officiating once again left an ugly mark.

Here are some highlights, and lowlights, from the past few days.

Referees Once Again in the Spotlight

Bad calls can happen anytime and anywhere, and there has been some shocking referee decisions this year in Europe’s top leagues.

MLS has always suffered through some questionable refereeing but the 2016 season has seen some of the worst decision-making in league history. 

In the first month players were sent off with unprecedented frequency—often for borderline calls. Last week, Nigel de Jong was somehow not sent off for a blatantly violent tackle. It would have been more understandable if the referee didn’t see the challenge but he did since a yellow card was awarded—making it worse.

Sunday's Orlando-New England game will add fuel to the fire. With the score tied 1-1 in stoppage time, Orlando took the lead when referee Baldomero Toledo missed Kevin Molino controlling the ball with his arm before slotting the ball into the back of the net.

Minutes later, Lee Nguyen attempted to lift a ball that hit Servando Carrasco on the shoulder. Toledo ruled it a penalty, which it clearly was not, and Nguyen converted. Both teams benefitted from Toledo’s incompetent decisions but it ruined what was actually a pretty good game.

The truth is that it was actually entertaining for all the wrong reasons. The big crowd at the Citrus Bowl erupted in fury while head coaches Jay Heaps and Adrian Heath exchanged heated words.

There was no shortage of drama and if you were watching on television, you couldn’t look away. So that is good. But this whole mess has to change and change quickly.

Jordan Morris Opens His Account 

On Saturday night the Seattle Sounders defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1—a much-needed win for a Seattle team that started the season very poorly. Better yet, Seattle's prized rookie, Jordan Morris, finally scored his first MLS goal.

Preseason expectations for Morris, 21, were unreasonably high. After failing to score in his first five games, even U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann went public to preach patience.

In the 71st minute, Morris finally broke through with a skilfull goal, taking a pass from Andreas Ivanschitz and slotting it past Andre Blake.

Perhaps it was the moment that Morris needed and now the pressure will be alleviated somewhat. Time will tell but it was encouraging for Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, Morris, Seattle, and Klinsmann.

"I am sure he feels more relief than I do,” Schmid said after the game. “I am sure he is very, very happy. I know he had a couple of really, really good looks in the first half...It's great for him, it's great for our city, it's great for our team."

The man who created the chance chimed in too.

"Right from the start when we signed him there was a lot of pressure on him,” Ivanschitz said. “It's very important that he scored his first goal and I'm very happy about that because honestly I was young too and I know how hard it is at times. You get all these questions all the time like: ‘when will you score your first goal?’ And you just have to stay focused and that's what he did. He's a good boy; he's training every day very hard...a well-deserved goal for him tonight."

Jones adds to Red Bull woes

After serving a suspension for last year’s altercation with a referee in the playoffs, U.S. international Jermaine Jones is now with Colorado and was cleared to make his debut with the Rapids on Saturday night.

For Colorado, it could not have gone any better. Playing in snow which was reminiscent of the unforgettable U.S. World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in 2013, Jones scored the opening goal in the 21st minute and assisted Dominique Badji’s winner in the 82nd to give the Rapids a 2-1 win.

Colorado is now in third place in the Western Conference and the addition of Jones will give the team leadership and bite in the midfield. In listening to him speak after the game, Jones sounds very much like the leader the team needs.

“We talked before that when we have goal kicks that we maybe try to find me in a little bit higher position,” Jones said. “But I like it to either defend goal kicks or get them in offense. But the main thing for me is that the team, in that condition, played very well, especially after I’ve seen how the team works after I went on away trips where we lost to Real Salt Lake, and to still keep up and get a win in Kansas City is amazing.

“And now at home, in bad conditions, against New York,” Jones added. “The Rapids are young and a lot of people don’t maybe have our team on the list for a playoff spot, and that’s what I try to explain to these guys, look game-to-game and be hungry and prove people wrong and that can be motivation. And right now, with me they won, and without me they won, so it shows that the team is intact.”

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have gone from first to worst in record time with one win and six losses in its first seven contests. The team can’t score, it can’t defend, and there is no end in sight. Yes the team has been successful over the past three seasons but the team has not spent a lot of money in the process despite some glaring needs.

If midseason reinforcements are not brought in, it will only lead to more questions over the Austrian ownership group’s intentions.

After the game Red Bulls’ coach Jesse Marsch sounded puzzled and frustrated about the current predicament.

“I'm having a hard time explaining what we're going through because it's another game where I feel like in many ways we established ourselves, especially in the second half, as the better team,” Marsch said. “We're on top of the game more and somehow the game slips. So it's incredibly frustrating. I can't explain it. I've never been through situations like these where consistently we actually do okay, but can't reward ourselves enough for goals and feels like almost every time the team comes on the field we give away chances that wind up in the goal.”

Crew gets back on track over NYCFC

As the Red Bulls continue to struggle, things appear to be more upbeat in Ohio as Columbus looked like its 2015 version in a 3-2 win over New York City FC.

Overall, the defense for both teams left a lot to be desired but offensively it was a fun game. Columbus was expected to be among the best teams in the Eastern Conference but this was just its first win of the season. In recent weeks it looked frustrated about its inability to score but what’s been overlooked is that many of its games have been close. The 1-1 draw against Dallas showed it was not that far away from returning to form.

“I think that we worked all week on how we’re going to play and getting the guys confident, and particularly in the first half with some really, really good soccer: dynamic, attacking, good possession, good movement,” Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter said. “So, I think it was a great performance. Certainly getting some of these guys off the mark with goals is big.”

Will this win signify a return to normalcy? My guess: yes

Has Dos Santos arrived?

If the Los Angeles Galaxy are to return to the top echelon of the Western Confereince, Giovani Dos Santos will need to step it up this season. The Mexican international has not completely caught on since joining L.A. in the middle of the 2015 season. 

But that could change soon.

“He has a lot more to offer. He’s going to get better in every game,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said recently. “In another two or three weeks he’s going to be hitting his form if he continues to play and stays healthy. I think now that he’s healthy, he’s focused, and he wants to be the best player he can be. Hopefully, we’ll see that.”

Arena proved to be correct as Dos Santos turned in a two-goal effort on Friday as the Galaxy cruised to a comfortable 4-1 road win over Houston and moved into fifth place in the Western Conference.

After the game, Arena reemphasized his confidence in Dos Santos and also reaffirmed that he thinks the Galaxy have strong prospects this season.

"We know that we can get better and get ourselves a little healthier because we're a little bit thin in a few positions right now,” Arena said. “But I think we're going to be bringing a few players back in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, we'll get better. You know how it is in this league, every game is a tough game. We've had six games so far, three at home and three on the road.

"It's never easy, but I'm pleased that we've kept our heads above water and we haven't disappeared. We have a chance to have a good season."

Drogba’s Delivers Goal of the Week

Montreal has been a good team this year even without Didier Drogba. But when the Chelsea legend is on the field for the Canadian club, he makes them that much better. It was true in 2015 and it will be true again in 2016.

The clear and convincing evidence came on Saturday in Montreal’s win over Chicago 

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