MLS winners and losers as New York Red Bulls racism row casts a dark cloud over weekend's action

New York Red Bulls San Jose Earthquakes 2023
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GOAL breaks down the biggest storylines from a weekend of domestic action that was about much more than soccer

There are certain moments and certain topics that are much, much bigger than soccer. Unfortunately, this weekend's MLS action was defined by one of those moments.

Saturday's clash between the New York Red Bulls and the San Jose Earthquakes was the setting for an accusation of racism. Another one.

Just days after yet another racism controversy unfolded in Italy around Romelu Lukaku, and the authorities, once again, getting it all wrong, MLS had their own horrible accusation to deal with.

A Red Bulls player was accused of using a slur, prompting a melee the delayed the game for 20 minutes. Another unsavory moment, another horrible incident. None of this should be happening anymore. Not that it should have happened ever, but so much work has been done to try and eradicate this stupidity.

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Jeremy Ebobisse, the San Jose Earthquakes striker, has done more work than most since his arrival in MLS, becoming an outspoken advocate in some of the most difficult moments. He was at the center of this controversy, and he was able to use his own words to explain what it feels like when you hear someone else use theirs for hate.

“This is what it is to be black in these situations," he said after the game. "You can’t be wrong, you can’t overstep anything outside of what you know to be fact. You have to proceed with absolute caution, even in moments of hurt when you’re feeling rather powerless.” 

There's still an investigation to unfold, and the league will surely get to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, there was still some good soccer, and some bad soccer, played this weekend. But let all of this serve as a reminder that, despite how far we've all come, there's still more work to be done when it comes to the basics of protecting people.

GOAL breaks down all the biggest storylines from the latest round of MLS fixtures...

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  1. WINNER: Denis Bouanga and LAFC

    WINNER: Denis Bouanga and LAFC

    It's safe to say that Bouanga has come good, and that LAFC have another star on their hands.

    His latest effort? A hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Austin FC. The winger now has six goals and two assists in six MLS games to go with five goals and an assist in the CONCACAF Champions League. That is, quite frankly, a superstar level return from a guy that is very much earning that title.

    Bouanga was a bit overlooked, and overcriticized, during LAFC's run to the MLS Cup title. His arrival was overshadowed by those of Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini, and his initial performances weren't quite DP-quality, leading to him being put even more on the backburner as LAFC made their run.

    No one is overlooking him now, though. Bouanga is the real deal.

    "If we could teach him how to set up goals more often a little better, then he’s hands down the best player in the league," LAFC boss Cherundulo said. "There’s still room for improvement, and that’s the scary thing."

    Scary indeed. With Bouanga leading the way, LAFC remain unbeaten through six games. Their title defense is on, and it's the Gabon star who is at the forefront of it.

  2. LOSER: New York Red Bulls

    Innocent until proven guilty is very much the case here. There's still an investigation to be done, so until that point, we can't really get into what comes next. But what we can do is look at how this incident was handled in the moment and, in many ways, it wasn't done correctly.

    The player accused of saying the slur stayed on the field once play resumed, something Quakes boss Luchi Gonzalez was not happy with, and rightfully so.

    “I was adamant to suggest that the player should not be on the field anymore,” Gonzalez told reporters after the game, which ended as a 1-1 draw. “When I listen to my players in terms of what was said or not said, there are things there that are unacceptable. It takes precedent over the game we play. We’re going to support the players.” 

    For the Red Bulls, taking the player off the field should be a no-brainer. Of course, you want to back your player, and of course, you'd hope he didn't say these things. But the message you send by leaving him on if he did? No game, no result, is worth that.

    For their own safety and for the sake of doing what's right, the Red Bulls should have handled this one differently. We'll see what comes of the investigation and what happens next after this incident. Hopefully, the player in question did nothing wrong. Hopefully, he didn't say what he was accused of saying and this was one big misunderstanding, even if that is hard to imagine given what we've seen.

    And let this be a lesson on how not to handle something like this, something that, we hope, doesn't happen ever again.

  3. WINNER: FC Cincinnati

    WINNER: FC Cincinnati

    They've flown under the radar, partly because they've not looked nearly as good as they did last season, but it's time to give FC Cincinnati their credit.

    Along with LAFC, Cincinnati are the lone remaining unbeaten team after a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union. The Union, admittedly, are reeling, but that doesn't matter. A win over the Union is still quite an achievement.

    Cincy won ugly, with Luciano Acosta's penalty kick making all the difference. And that's been a common theme, as Cincy have won their five games by a combined total of five goals.

    It's a far cry from last year, when, led by Acosta, Brenner and Brandon Vazquez, the club had arguably the most electrifying attack in the league. This season's success has been a bit more pragmatic, but it's been success nonetheless.

    Brenner and Vazquez have just one goal apiece, but anyone who has seen them play would bet on them to find the net plenty sooner rather than later.

    If those two get going, Cincy can reach another level but, even if they don't, this team is proving it can win in different ways, which could make all the difference down the stretch.

  4. LOSER: Martin Caceres, Douglas Costa and the LA Galaxy

    If it wasn't official before, it is now: the Galaxy are a disaster. And that may be putting it lightly.

    Somehow, the Galaxy reached an even newer low this weekend, something that seemed almost impossible as they find new ways to make a mess of things week after week.

    This time around, the Galaxy fell 3-0 to the Dynamo in Houston, giving them their third defeat of the season. They're still winless, but it wasn't just the loss, but rather how idiotic they were in getting there.

    Martin Caceres and Douglas Costa, two of the team's veteran leaders, were sent off for pure stupidity. Caceres was sent off for touching a referee, while Costa was handed his marching orders for needlessly dragging a player to the ground.

    "Yeah, it's unacceptable. They know it's unacceptable," said manger Greg Vanney. "They apologized to the group, but it's not acceptable. It can't happen. These guys are veterans in our team. They're supposed to be leaders in our team. They need to set examples. They need to, again, control their emotions, and we need them available always, and they understand that, and it's not acceptable."

    Both will now miss the team's clash with LAFC. El Trafico, based on what we've seen, may be a bloodbath.

    That will do little to quiet the fan protests, and it will do little to help the Galaxy dig themselves out of a hole that, just two months into the season, may already be unescapable.

    Where do they go from here? There's nowhere but up, one would think, but based on what we've seen, who knows how far the Galaxy can fall.

  5. WINNER: Seattle Sounders
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    WINNER: Seattle Sounders

    For as good as St. Louis City SC have been, and they have been good, the Seattle Sounders are a different animal.

    This is a team that is always among the elite, always right there among the best. Winning is in their DNA. As an expansion team, St. Louis are surely looking at the Sounders as an example. They are the club that everyone else strives to be.

    And they're proving it again this year. Their most recent win, a 3-0 battering of the MLS newcomers, showed that, despite how far St. Louis has come in a short time, they still have a ways to go.

    As for the Sounders, this team may be the deepest in the league, and they haven't even really hit their top gear. This win came without Raul Ruidiaz and Joao Paulo, arguably their two best players, in the XI. Without them, they beat up one of the best teams in MLS so far this season.

    Jordan Morris is firing, young stars like Josh Atencio are getting the chance to shine and MLS regulars like Cristian Roldan, Albert Rusnak, Stefan Frei and Nouhou Tolo are as reliable as ever.

    This teams is constructed to contend once again. St. Louis may very well be too but, for now, Seattle is the bar, and they keep on finding ways to raise it.