In the first three seasons of MLS’ existence, Bruce Arena coached D.C. United (hereinafter to be called the Washington Not Soccer Team) to 6 titles. Over the following 11+ seasons, 5 WNST head coaches accumulated another 6 titles. In the 10+ seasons since, WNST has had just one head coach – Ben Olsen – who has generated a grand total of one title. And that was the 2013 US Open Cup. That same season they finished dead last in the league, which they also did in 2010, and they avoided a last place finish in 2017 on tiebreakers, edging out the LA Galaxy, whose coach Curt Onalfo was fired mid-season. Not coincidentally, Olsen took control of WNST from…Curt Onalfo. WNST’s best league finish under Olsen was the 2012 Eastern Conference final, which they lost to the Houston Dynamo, who then lost the MLS Cup to, not coincidentally, the LA Galaxy, who were then coached by…Bruce Arena.
Safe to say, then, Olsen’s tenure at WNST has been one of futility. And, it seems, more than a little synchronicity.
That futility (not to mention some mind-blowing ineptitude) was on full display Saturday evening, as Atlanta United cruised to its best road victory since the second game in its history, the famous 6-1 drubbing of Minnesota United.
The game itself defies analysis. Just 26% of the game was played in the Stripes’ defensive third, despite Atlanta having just a 1.2% possession advantage. Remarkably, neither goalkeeper recorded a save. That’s right, every Atlanta shot on target resulted in a goal, and WNST had none on target.
The score could easily have been worse (or better, I guess). Miles Robinson had two good headed chances, and Adam Jahn had another, as well as a very cheeky backheel attempt, not to mention several other promising attacks.
Which brings us to the highlights of the game, namely, three refereeing decisions, all of which were perplexing.
The first I want to address is the ejection of Frédéric Brillant. Brillant, who could have been on a yellow anyway for earlier infractions, was shown a straight red in the 85th minute for denial of a goalscoring opportunity outside the penalty area. The decision was reportedly confirmed by the VAR, but in my judgment, WNST defender Steve Birnbaum was in a good position to intercept. Brillant should have been issued a yellow anyway, which means he really ought to have been out of the game anyway. Still, I felt the decision was debatable.
Less debatable was the crunching tackle on Brooks Lennon by Yamil Asad in second half stoppage time. Asad was clearly frustrated and let that frustration get to him. The tackle was flagrantly dangerous, well past the reckless standard for a yellow. And not getting a red probably left him even more frustrated, because who would want to remain on the field under those circumstances?
Which brings us to the evening’s comic relief. Two and a half minutes into the second half, the game was abruptly stopped. Somehow, it had come to the officials’ attention that half time WNST substitute Russell Canouse had not been on the official game roster. Which raises some questions. First, how inept is Olsen’s staff that the official roster does not include the same names as the publicly released roster? Second, and more importantly, why did the 4th official, whose job it is to control substitutions, not verify that Canouse was on the roster before allowing him to enter the game? Embarrassment all around.
Worse, the referee did not seem to know the applicable rules. As far as Canouse himself is concerned, he did not in fact commit any infraction, so his ejection was not the result of a red card. The only infraction he could have been guilty of is entering the game without permission. That would be a yellow card, not a red. But he did have permission, entering the game under normal procedure as dictated by Law 3 Section 3. Further, even if he entered without permission, it was a half time substitution, which is subject to a special rule which states:
If the referee is not informed, the named substitute may continue to play, no disciplinary action is taken and the matter is reported to the appropriate authorities.
Note that it says “named substitute”. Law 3 also states that the names of the substitutes must be given to the referee prior to the start of the match, and that the number of substitutes is subject to competition rules. Canouse was not a named substitute, so technically this particular law doesn’t apply. In fact, he wasn’t a player at all as far as this game was concerned.
Which brings us to another issue: what if Canouse had committed a bookable foul while he was on the field? Law 12 says this:
Only a player, substitute, substituted player or team official may be shown the red or yellow card.
Again, technically, despite being on the field, he was not a player. However, since that would not have been known if an offense occurred, a card would have been issued. Rescinding the card later based on the fact that he was not a player would seem an overly literal interpretation of the law, and giving him effective carte blanche is hardly in the spirit of the game.
The referee apparently consulted the MLS Competition Committee to figure out what to do. If there is one thing that we referees get drummed into our heads on a regular basis, it’s that we have to know the specific rules of the competition we are working, and gameday rosters are paramount among those rules. But the only issue was whether Canouse could be replaced, since he had to leave the game. The Laws themselves are silent on this, stating only that if a team starts a game with fewer than the maximum numbers of players, they can add eligible players when they arrive. A reasonable reading would suggest that similar conditions apply here.
The worst of it all, though, was that Canouse was subjected to the long humiliating walk back to the locker room for something that was entirely not his fault.
In the end, it made no difference, so no harm, no foul. WNST may be subject to some sanction from MLS, although this seems like a genuine error and no intention to cheat was evident.
That’s unlikely, though, given that MLS has been far more lenient in the past. Back in 2017, FC Dallas used Michael Barrios as a substitute illegally (under MLS rules, not the Laws) in a game they drew against Orlando City SC. Dallas was not forced to forfeit the game, and ended the season missing the playoffs only by virtue of tiebreakers.
With that, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was a tough call this week, with the DSS staff divided. So for once we have a twofer: Brooks Lennon and Jon Gallagher share the spoils. Special Mentions go to Emerson Hyndman, Adam Jahn and Franco Escobar, who were the other players involved in Atlanta’s various scores.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. As noted above, Brad was not exactly pressed to keep a clean sheet.
LB: George Bello – 6.5. George picked up his second yellow card of the season (also the second of his career) fairly early, but didn’t let it slow him down too much. 5 tackles, 1 interceptions, 1 clearance and 4 recoveries defensively. Distribution wasn’t so hot though: 63.6% on just 22 passes. Subbed out after 78 minutes.
CB: Miles Robinson – 7.5. Also got an early yellow, and was pulled along with Bello. Nevertheless, 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 5 clearances, 3 blocks and 3 recoveries. And let’s not forget those two headed shots.
CB: Anton Walkes – 7. A rather unchallenging stint at center back for Anton. Just 3 clearances and 3 recoveries. Almost literally a walk in the park.
RB: Franco Escobar – 8. Credited with the hockey assist on Adam Jahn’s goal to cap off a successful evening. On defense he recorded just 1 tackle, 1 interception and 2 recoveries, but he spent a fair fraction of the game in the attacking half. 97.1% accuracy on 35 passes. Also had two off-target shots.
LDM: Emerson Hyndman – 7.5. Regular readers will know I am not an Emerson fan. Saturday was a pleasant change, then. 1 assist and 1 hockey assist, together with 92.3% completion on 52 passes make for a strong performance. Spoiled the night with a yellow card, though.
RDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Jeff being Jeff. That is, the wily veteran. He led all players with 5 fouls committed but came out unsanctioned. 89.7% passing accuracy on 39 attempts is also sound, and those allowed to Hyndman to play a rather more advanced position. Because, you know, 6 defensively oriented players would really have been overkill in this game. Still, he did manage 1 shot off frame.
LAM: Jon Gallagher – 9. If there has been a truly pleasant surprise in this difficult season, it would be Jon Gallagher. George Bello’s development runs a close second, probably. 2 great goals in 82 minutes.
CAM: Mo Adams – 7. A rare start for Mo, but a good one. A relatively quiet game compared with some others on the team, but 88.2% accuracy on 34 passes in 81 minutes is still pretty good. 1 shot off target as well.
RAM: Brooks Lennon – 9. An unassisted golazo for Brooks winning Goal of the Week, supported by 2 assists. A very strong game, obviously.
FWD: Adam Jahn – 8. 2 attempts on goal, finishing one. That backheel wasn’t recorded as a shot, but it should have been if only for the total disrespect it showed. Topped that off with a hockey assist on Gallagher’s second goal.
SUB: Edgar Castillo – 7. Replaced Miles and had 12 official minutes, which of course added up to an absurd 21 actual minutes. With the game obviously well in hand, he had no defensive duties to speak of, and recorded 1 shot off target and 11 passes for 81.8% accuracy.
SUB: Jürgen Damm – 6. Good to see him back from injury, but his progress to 90 minutes fitness has probably been set back. Just 7 passes for 85.7% completion in 12 official minutes wasn’t all that impressive.
SUB: Laurence Wyke – 7. Came on for Mo Adams after 81 minutes and connected on all 9 of his passes.
SUB: Tyler Wolff – 6. Replaced Gallagher in the 82nd minute and completed 7 of 9 passes.
SUB: Manuel Castro – 6. Came on for Adam Jahn after 84 minutes. No passes, 2 recoveries and 3 fouls committed.
COACH: Stephen Glass – 8. The best thing for Glass other than a signature win was that he was able to rotate the lineup heavily.
IRONY – 10. Did anyone notice the #LoudounPossible on the advertising boards? This was in relation to the county’s business development efforts, but under the circumstances was unintentionally ironic. Loudoun United FC is WNST’s USL affiliate, now in its second year in that league. Well, actually, their year is over. In fact, it was over a while ago due to a COVID outbreak on the team that forced cancellation of their last 3 games. At the time the team’s record was a league-low 1-9-3, which is about on a par with WNST’s 2-8-5.