Atlanta United may have defeated Nashville SC in a night of celebration, but at what cost did the victory come for both teams and MLS as a whole?
Atlanta United finally started a season off with a win. After three-straight failures, the Five Stripes went on the road for the opening night of the 2020 Major League Soccer season to spoil the debut of Nashville SC, running out 2-1 victors.
Ezequiel Barco opened up the scoring for Atlanta United in the 10th minute via a long-range rocket from outside the box — his performance throughout the night on both sides of the ball catapulted Atlanta to victory. Walker Zimmerman equalized from a set-piece before Emerson Hyndman produced a sumptuous but controversial volley to hand Atlanta the victory.
However, while this was a night to celebrate for Nashville and an encouraging victory for Atlanta United, the match was overshadowed by poor officiating and an injury to star striker, Josef Martinez. At what cost did this victory come?
Nashville supporters have a right to gripe about Atlanta United’s second goal. Following a corner, it seemed as though Hyndman played the ball to an offside Gonzala Martinez. The linesman then raised his flag signaling for offside and the Nashville players stopped playing.
However, the flag was then lowered as the sideline official realized the ball was played from a Nashville defender instead and the hesitation gave Hyndman space to lash home the volley.
This will be the third year that VAR is being used in MLS. It is absurd that officials still raise their flags for close or questionable offside calls. The goal itself was legit, but the officials need to know when to raise and when to hold their flags.
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While it is easy to simply say ‘play to the whistle’, as a player, once you see the flag raised, you naturally begin to stop playing as you anticipate a whistle to be blown.
Another blatant officiating mistake occurred late on. Barco seemingly had an open shot at goal from midfield as Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis was running back from an attacking position. Willis raised his hands to block Barco’s lobbed effort. It was an obvious infringement, but he was only given a yellow card.
And then there is Martinez and his potential injury. In the 63rd minute, the Atlanta United attacker collided with a Nashville defender and suffered an apparent knee injury as he laid on the ground pointing to his knee and in obvious pain. While he did continue on for several minutes, he collapsed in the 69th minute as he could no longer continue. Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer stated after the game that the team will take the next few days to evaluate the extent of Martinez’s injuries, but the initial signs were not positive, with Martinez in clear distress.
For Atlanta and Nashville, then, this was a celebratory evening with MLS at its best. But it came with a cost, the poor refereeing standards continue to blight the league, while one of the premier players might miss significant time. A pyrrhic victory for MLS, then.