My optimism coming into the weekend was more focused on Gillette Stadium on Friday evening. In fact, I almost went to the game. After all, the Impact looked like they were turning the corner and visiting a venue that in the past, had been reasonably kind.
I was much less looking forward to Saturday, watching Manchester United, one of two clubs I’ve supported fanatically since boyhood. As it happened, they also were on their travels. But just a few miles up the road, at all-conquering City. And here was the real nightmare scenario: lose and you hand your bitter rivals the English Premier League Title, while all us Reds, would be forced to watch the party, noses rubbed firmly in the dirt.
Friday evening, as all regular readers already know, was an occasion that started badly, and simply just got worse!
What! No Piatti? That was the first nasty surprise, already reducing by half, my new-found optimism engendered by successive good results, and an unpierced rearguard.
If Piatti was the tremor, then the actual quake was not long in following. I’ve huge dollops of sympathy for Saphir Taider. Simply, no ill intent. Ten years ago, that’s barely a yellow, never mind a red. He attempted a piece of skill, lost control, and momentum hurtled him into the unfortunate Caicedo. Yes, I understand the game’s been “cleaned-up”, yes, there are newer interpretations and guidelines for referees on player-safety, but come on, did the Algerian’s actions really warrant dismissal?
Must admit from Twitter feeds and respected reports, I was more than a little surprised at how many IMFC fans were in agreement with Mr Rivero’s decision, so maybe this old dinosaur is not yet at one with the game’s newer, more tender, ways. Roy Keane could never play in MLS these days. That’s for sure!
VAR, oh my word, VAR!!!
Or, . . . . maybe not VAR? I guess the technology doesn’t make the decision, to consult itself. We had two very clear-cut decisions that, forgive my sarcasm, a blind ref could’ve awarded correctly. Of course, I refer to the Revs opening goal, and then the penalty, when there was not one, but two fouls, each worthy of the award.
Why either of these incidents even needed a second look, never mind a combined 8-minute delay, must surely be beyond the comprehension of the most exacting or fussiest of officials. A massive crisis of confidence just had to be affecting those running the game on Friday.
Remi Garde must’ve have been chomping at the bit to get his charges in at the break, just a single goal in arrears. But the VAR-protracted, added time, foiled his aspirations, Andrew Farrell nipping in to score a first-ever MLS goal in 164 matches of trying. You know it’s not your night when that happens!
Even by now, some Impact players were hiding. And after the interval, things didn’t improve. I’d just written last week how the side’s character was developing. Character is often defined and tested most, in times of adversity. I had been premature, and wrong. And for me, there was still tomorrow to come. Surely United’s highly paid professionals would show more fight? Please, God?
Games against City, when they were a proper Football Club, had become too easy, barely were The Blues recognized worthy, of the label, “rivals”. Since they became part of the Abu Dhabi United Group, all that changed.
Anyhow, United were worse in the first 45 mins at The Etihad, than the Impact had been in 100 the night before! Two down in 30 mins, shocking defending a factor, but really, it would’ve (SHOULD’VE) become a rout had Raheem Sterling not confused the measurements of David de Gea’s goal with a particularly troublesome barn door.
My football world was crumbling? I called my friend to pick me up. “Let’s go out,” I said, fully intending to make my exit, immediately my ride arrived. I couldn’t watch City lifting the title. Not today. United were lucky to be two goals in sight of their hosts. Had it been five, they’d still have to consider themselves fortunate.
Second-half begun. Gundogan for City clipped the angle of bar and post. Where’s my ride? Groan, groan.
Have you ever wished for a miracle, without hope it could ever materialize, and then fate plays a trick; something tangible happens that makes you believe, then slaps you in the face (or somewhere worse) again?
So enter Paul Pogba, the young Frenchman of the ever transforming “barnet” (hairstyle, in UK-English), outrageously and inappropriately, sky blue and white for the occasion!
He finishes off a fine move for United. Hope rises, probably more than it deserves to, and before you can contemplate that kick in the “you know whats”, the same player contorts his body, positioning himself perfectly to place a wonderful stooping header past Ederson. 2-2. Unreal. Game on!
My ride had just arrived, but it was going to have to wait! My weekend finally looking up, I wasn’t for missing this.
The blue hordes, title celebrations and United-taunting well underway, were rocked backwards. Now they were, the taunted.
And it got better for the red side of Manchester. When unlikely match-winner, Chris Smalling, so highly culpable in City’s opening goal, volleyed past the hapless Ederson, I could only hope and pray; a) that my neighbors weren’t in, or, b) the sound-proofing in the walls was as effective as it was supposed to be.
In sixteen magical minutes, from Pogba reducing the arrears to 1-2, United now led!
How had this happened? It was wild, and it was stunning, and it stirred the memory back to the days of Sir Alex, when thrilling recoveries were more a normal fact of life. An excruciating low was now an exhilarating high. United hadn’t won anything, except the derby, and ensured City’s coronation would be postponed to another day. But it felt like much, much more.
And you know what? There wasn’t a VAR in sight!