An exciting playoff game, an ill-timed celebration, and kudos for Major League Soccer:
Down 2-0? No Big Deal
Will there be a better MLS playoff game this season than the first-round match Sunday between Austin FC and Real Salt Lake? Probably, but Austin FC’s penalty-kick win following 120-plus minutes of frenetic action in front of a sellout crowd on Austin’s home pitch at Q2 Stadium certainly had plenty of twists, turns and drama.
In the background was a remarkable achievement by Austin FC. For the fourth time this season, the Verde & Black fell behind by two goals and came back to win. No other MSL team had ever done that. DC United, the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City all took a 2-0 lead over Austin FC, but lost. The scores were 3-2, 3-2 and 4-3, respectively.
Real Salt Lake bolted ahead 2-0 over Austin FC on a pair of goals by Sergio Cordova in the game’s first 15 minutes. A header by Austin FC’s Sebastian Driussi, the ejection of Real Salt Lake’s Rubio Rubin early in the second half after he picked up a second yellow card, and a penalty-goal by Driussi during second-half injury time knotted the score.
Then Austin FC goalie Brad Stuver became the hero. He made two saves during the PK shootout, equaling his PK stops during the regular season. He’s now 4-for-11 on PK saves during his MLS career.
On the flip side of excitement, there’s Lewis Morgan, the leading scorer for the New York Red Bulls. The 26-year-old Scotsman scored the Red Bulls’ first goal Saturday in a first-round MLS playoff game against visiting Cincinnati FC, but he celebrated a bit too much.
After running to a corner to commiserate with Red Bulls fans, Morgan walked back toward the field. But something was wrong. He dropped to his knees. He was subbed out for Dylan Nealis three minutes later and the Red Bulls suffered a stunning 2-1 defeat.
Morgan’s 15 goals during the regular season led the Red Bulls, who finished 15-8-11, good for fourth place in the MLS East. Cincinnati FC, on the other hand, was 12-13-9 during the regular season. The dozen victories were the most in team history. Cincinnati FC had only 14 regular-season wins in its first three MLS seasons (2019-21).
The Best Whistles
It’s said the best official is one who is anonymous, whose presence during a game is barely noticed. MLS doesn’t take that approach, thankfully. It joins forces with the Professional Referee Organization each season to honor its best officials with the MLS Referee of the Year and MLS Assistant Referee of the Year awards. The PRO nominates candidates for both awards. Voting is done by MLS clubs’ technical staff members, MLS players and media.
The 2022 MLS Referee of the Year is Ismail Elfath, who also won the award is 2020. Elfath has officiated 193 MLS games. He’ll represent U.S. Soccer and the PRO as a referee at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Corey Rockwell is the MLS Assistant Referee of the Year. He previously won the award in 2011. He’s officiated 340 MLS games. He worked at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2019 MLS Cup final.
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