Before each game I jokingly write a lede predicting the worst possible outcome. For the first time ever, that lede feels somewhat appropriate. “Sadness is knowing exactly how close you were to joy” succinctly sums up the near-riotous party turned tire fire that was Atlanta United’s 3-1 loss to Red Bulls on Sunday night, in a game flipped completely on its head by two crucial refereeing decisions in the first half.
The opening twenty minutes were breathless. Both sides went full throttle out of the gate, exchanging chances until Atlanta delivered the first blow in the 26th minute. A deflection on a Miguel Almiron shot skipped to the feet of Ezequiel Barco who slotted home from ten yards away.
Big time players, make big time plays in big time games. pic.twitter.com/9dMLIjTdSP— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) May 20, 2018
The Five Stripes continued to find space in behind the New York press immediately after the Barco goal. It appeared as if Josef Martinez had capitalized on that space in the 33rd minute as he slipped past Red Bulls center back Tim Parker to find himself on the receiving end of a phenomenal pass from Julian Gressel and in on goal. In the midst of the celebration of what Atlanta fans assumed was a 2-0 lead, the VAR awoke from his slumber deep inside the VAR Lair, 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Dismayed by the chance for another runaway Atlanta United victory, the VAR decided to disallow the goal and return to its slumber. Or whatever. Who the hell knows how this crap works anymore.
#ATLUTD though they'd doubled their lead, but the Josef Martinez goal was ruled out by Video Review for an apparent foul on Aaron Long. #RBNY fortunate to only be down 1-0 at this point. #ATLvNY #ATLvRBNY #MLS #VAR pic.twitter.com/ZCy1kjko3p— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) May 20, 2018
With the goal disallowed, Atlanta found themselves on the back foot. New York finally found a break in the 42nd minute when Miles Robinson brought Bradley Wright-Phillips to the floor inside the 18-yard-box and the Red Bulls were awarded a penalty for totally legitimate reasons that definitely exist I guess. Daniel Royer converted and the game entered the half tied at one.
It took five minutes into the second half for Red Bulls to double down on their good fortune. A gorgeous cross from Michael Murillo found Wright-Phillips and his headed finish outshone the cross, spinning into the bottom of the far corner.
Bradley Wright-Phillips just doing what he does best!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 21, 2018
His header puts NYRB ahead 2-1 in Atlanta. pic.twitter.com/askJLND3T0
They continued to pile on in the 54th minute. This time it was a cross from Kaku that found Wright-Phillips for the goal. 25 minutes of play after a presumed 2-0 lead, Atlanta was suddenly spiraling.
BWP does it again and NY Red Bulls now lead 3-1! pic.twitter.com/fhSJL7nXwt— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 21, 2018
In the 71st minute, Greg Garza received a red card to bring an already chasing Atlanta side down to 10 men.
Things go from bad to worse for Atlanta as Garza is shown a red card! pic.twitter.com/e0S56UxN7U— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 21, 2018
The rest of the game was strange and sad. The score stayed the same.
Predictably, Atlanta United had thoughts about the refereeing after the game. Especially Tata Martino, and woo boy were there some quotes. I’m just going to wall them here because picking one would be like picking a favorite child. All of these are through a translator.
“I got no explanation of the calls, but who was the VAR referee tonight?” (Media: Mark Geiger) “Ahh, I didn’t see the plays but — wait, really it was the same one? Mark Geiger?”
“Penalty, nothing. Goal, goal. The red card they called on Jeff was a foul on the other player.”
“Aside from all that we played a very good team, but when two good teams play you need more even officiating.”
“I don’t want to take away from Red Bulls. They’re a very good team and that’s the same thing I said about Kansas City. But there was one protagonist in both games, and I’m not just talking about the referee. I’m talking about the same person. He reffed that game and he was on review tonight. On the penalty, there are very few times I’ve seen that called a foul, let alone a penalty. I think it had a direct impact on the game. Not just that one play, because we could have gone into the half up 2-0 but all the calls add up.”
“I sometimes don’t understand everything because of the language. I don’t know how they’re using VAR because I think that whoever is using it is reviewing things incorrectly at times.”
“I invite all of you guys to watch the replays and see what you think on the calls. But again, it’s not my problem. The problem is for everyone in this room because the referee that’s going to the world cup represents all of you.”
LGP also had thoughts.
“The Josef goal? What did he say. It’s stupid. It’s stupid. Because Parker runs to one side and Josef runs to the other side? He says foul. This is a foul? This is real? This is stupid. The referee every week, every single week, the same.”
“Suspend that referee. Suspend this referee, Mark Geiger against Kansas City. There were a lot of mistakes against us, always against us.”
“No. It was terrible. The referee is incredible. I don’t know what we have to do. We were doing a really good game. A lot of mistakes. The referee put the game to the other side and we lose our mind. No more focusing and we lose the game.”
And finally and most succinctly, Brad Guzan with some help from our friend Doug Roberson of the AJC.
There was no holding back on a frustrating night for the Five Stripes. An already stellar Red Bulls team didn’t need any help but, according to the players’ and manager, they certainly got it.
Atlanta United remains in first place in the Supporters Shield standings. The Five Stripes return to action on May 30 when they travel to New England. 10 days to walk this one off. Enjoy the breather y’all. We certainly need it.