Here are the ten things we learned from Week 11 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. A Return To The Spotlight For Chicago
For one night, at least, Chicago finally returned to the center of the MLS universe.
With ESPN and the defending champion Seattle Sounders in town for a Saturday night primetime clash, the Fire sold out Toyota Park for the first time since the fall of 2015 – and the more than 20,000 on hand in Bridgeview got their money’s worth.
Chicago poured four goals past the Sounders, with three coming in the space of sixteen minutes midway through the second half to put the game away.
It was the Fire’s night. The club got the aid of several poor calls from rookie official Nima Seghafi – more on him in a minute – in the first half, and pulled away late.
The result left Bastian Schweinsteiger – the man most responsible for the sudden soccer revival in Chicago – bouncing around the field at full-time in celebration.
For a club that has had very few good nights in the last four years, this was a cathartic night. The Fire haven’t truly mattered since the Cuauhtémoc Blanco era ended. That’s finally about to change.
2. New Referee Struggles
It’s always positive to see PRO adding young referees to its MLS roster, and Seghafi – at just 28 years old – has followed the kind of developmental path that PRO wants to see: he refereed college soccer, then worked in the USL, and then served as an MLS fourth official for two years before making the step up to refereeing MLS games.
Going into Saturday night, Seghafi had worked three games this year – most recently San Jose’s win over Portland last weekend – without major incident.
He was assigned to Chicago-Seattle when Jorge Gonzalez, the veteran official originally scheduled to call the game, was scratched. Gonzalez had left the Colorado-Vancouver game on Wednesday night with an injury.
As important as import referees like Alan Kelly can be for MLS, the key to improving the overall standard of refereeing in the league – just like the key to improving the standard of play – lies with homegrown talent.
The hope is that Seghafi has a long, successful career ahead of him. He will not, however, look back at his work on Saturday night fondly.
Seghafi called an extremely uneven first half, gave Chicago a dubious penalty, and then ordered that penalty retaken for encroachment on Seattle after it was originally missed even though Fire players were in the box as well.
Seghafi’s positioning on the penalty – standing behind the penalty taker instead of level or just ahead of the penalty spot – was wrong as well. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets the whistle for any more MLS games in the near future.
3. Concussion Protocol Failure
Speaking of referees, Kelly was unwittingly caught in the middle of a terrible situation during the Portland-Atlanta game on Sunday when Yamil Asad took a ball to the face from point-blank range, collapsed to the turf, and then reentered the game without going through any sort of concussion protocol.