MLS – Big 5
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MLS Expansion is in the news again and so are refereeing decisions, the L.A. Galaxy, and Didier Drogba, but first, we have to ask, does NYCFC have a …

1) Pirlo Problem?

It was just last June that Andrea Pirlo started against Barcelona in a losing effort in the Champions League Final. A 3-1 loss left “The Maestro” in tears that night, as Pirlo turned the page on that chapter of his career.

Pirlo’s 13 game intro to MLS was not all that was hoped, but with a decent rest and a full pre-season under his belt, NYCFC fans hoped to see the real Pirlo in 2016.

Pirlo's signing originally brought excitement to the NYCFC fans.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Pirlo’s signing originally brought excitement to the NYCFC fans.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Instead with Pirlo’s fellow big name, big money DP Frank Lampard out since pre-season with the world’s most stubborn calf injury, NYCFC’s rookie coach Patrick Vieira saw fit to bench Pirlo for last Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Philadelphia. Pirlo was not injured, Vieira said simply “it’s my decision. I’m just trying to choose the best team to win football matches, regarding the team we’re going to play against, on how we can hurt them and how we can defend their strengths.”

And Vieira gave no assurances that Pirlo would be in the lineup for tonight’s (Wednesday’s) home match versus Montreal. So, does Vieira have a Pirlo problem?

Well, yes and no. On the plus side, Pirlo has been active offensively and even with a zero beside his name in the stat sheets assist column, it is clear that the Italian legend retains the vision and the skills to deliver a good pass.

No, the problem lies on the other side of the ball where Vieira has struggled to find the right midfield combination to fortify the team’s defense. Pirlo is a defensive liability in the coach’s preferred 4-3-3, and while the team looked a bit more solid when Vieira paired Pirlo with defensive minded midfielder Federico Bravo, NYC’s lack of punch is amplified with Pirlo in street clothes.

So, what to do with Pirlo is clearly is a conundrum, if not a quite a problem for NYCFC. How will Vieira sort the situation out? Tonight’s lineup at Yankee Stadium should provide some clues.

2) Detroit City and Don Garber are in the Flirting Stage

And it just got serious. On Tuesday NBA rival owners Tom Gores, Detroit Pistons, and Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers announced that they had teamed up to bid for an MLS franchise. This announcement comes just a week after MLS Commissioner Don Garber named Detroit as a top candidate for future expansion.

Don Garber named Detroit as the  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Don Garber named Detroit as the top candidate.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The two potential MLS owners attended Michigan State and Quicken Loans founder Gilbert is widely known for his efforts to revitalize Detroit, efforts that included moving the company’s headquarters to the Motor City.

3) L.A. Galaxy and Expectations

The Galaxy look old, L.A. looks stale, the pieces don’t fit. These are the type of things MLS’ most successful franchise hears when it hits any sort of bump in the road. And the Galaxy heard plenty when it opened the 2016 MLS season just days after taking a 4-0 pasting from Santos Laguna. The road loss knocked L.A. out of the CCL and raised questions about the team’s winter reload.

A 4-1 home win over DC United to open league play calmed some frayed nerves but a 1-0 loss in Colorado and a 3-1 win at the StubHub over San Jose led to a pair of concerning ties, 0-0 at Vancouver and 1-1 at home to Portland.

Yes, there were injuries to key players like Steven Gerrard, Giovani Dos Santos, and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, but a suspension to Nigel de Jong for taking out Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe and a 2-1-2 record through five games had tongues wagging.

Mike Magee (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Mike Magee is performing well for the Galaxy.  (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Then Bruce Arena’s crew flipped the script with a pair of dominant displays, first a 4-1 win in Houston, then a 5-2 thumping of previously unbeaten Real Salt Lake. Dos Santos is scoring goals, Gerrard is performing well and Gyasi Zardes and Mike Magee are making up for the absence of Robbie Keane while Brian Rowe is trying to Wally Pipp Dan Kennedy – Google it – just like Jesse Gonzalez did last year in Dallas.

What does it all mean? It means that come playoff time the rest of the league can expect to hear from the Galaxy.

4) Drogba Plays…

Sometimes, when the turf is right. The field at Yankee Stadium is rarely noted in a positive light, but tonight the grass surface in the Bronx has been approved and so the 38-year-old star is set to play his fourth game of the MLS season.

Drogba looks set to play (ISI Photos/Michael Jarosz)

Drogba looks set to play (ISI Photos/Michael Jarosz)

Montreal has done fine in his absence, the Impact is tied for first place with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference with 12 points from a 4-3-0 record. Drogba has played just three of the seven games, starting once and scoring one goal.

Of course, the powerful striker bossed the league in 2015, notching 9 goals in 11 games, so New York’s shaky defense could be in for a torrid time tonight when Drogba teams with Ignacio Piatti.

5) Oh, those referees

It is a tough job, we know. And someone’s got to do it. We get it and replay and high-definition television’s make it easier than ever to criticize. Right, right. It’s just that there is so very much to be critical of.

Karl Ouimette (L) should have been shown a red card. (ISI Photos/Celso Bayo)

Karl Ouimette (L) should have been shown a red card. (ISI Photos/Celso Bayo)

The latest controversy came Sunday at Red Bull Arena. Orlando was leading 1-0 when Karl Ouimette dragged/scissored Cyle Larin to the ground just outside the box. Watched live the infraction seemed a sure penalty and a red card for Ouimette as last defender back. Replays showed the initial contact took place outside the box, leaving a free kick and a red card as a possible outcome. But there was no whistle, play continued and New York went the other way and equalized through Mike Grella.

With the controversy still fresh PRO boss Peter Walton conceded on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast that the Red Bulls defender should have seen red for his challenge.

Upon further review, the embarrassment index for the league and the referee’s association has only deepened with this subsequent statement from Paul Rejer, the PRO training and development manager, who said to MLSSoccer.com. “This should have been a red card to Ouimette for DOGSO (Denial of Obvious goal scoring opportunity).” “The referee was caught behind play and didn’t anticipate the long ball from the ‘keeper which meant he was too far behind play.

“When the ball was played Larin was actually offside, which was missed by the [assistant referee].”

So, we get it. It is a difficult job. But performances like the one turned in by Hilario Grajeda Sunday night in Harrison, New Jersey simply aren’t good enough for a league with Major League right there in its name.

About Peter Nolan

Peter Nolan is a staff writer for the GotSoccer Magazine, covering MLS and other US leagues, He's GotSoccer's chief National Team Correspondent.
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