Video replay factored heavily into three results over the weekend, while Josef Martinez was off scoring another hat trick for Atlanta United, who showed that their Week 1 loss was likely an aberration.
VAR was officially implemented by FIFA for this summer's World Cup, but it's been used in MLS since last year, and it was at the center of the action in Week 3.
Three matches featured result-altering decisions thanks to the use of video review on a weekend when five teams–LAFC, LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution–were idle.
The weekend also featured an orange ball appearance, attendance at venues ranging from a 5,000-plus intimate setting to a 45,000-plus megadome and a trio of teams coming off Concacaf Champions League action and not exactly showing their best.
Here's what stood out the most from Week 3 in MLS:
I. The cameras are always watching, Clint Dempsey
The U.S. star had an atrocious return to his home state, elbowing FC Dallas midfielder Jacori Hayes when he thought the officials weren't watching. But the electronic ones always are, and it didn't take much for Dempsey to be shown a prompt exit in the 37th minute. FCD, up 1-0 at the time, exploited the man advantage to the tune of a 3-0 victory, one which gets Oscar Pareja's club in the W column, while two-time reigning Western Conference champ Seattle is 0-2-0 to start the season.
The red card couldn't have come at a worse time for Seattle, too. Jordan Morris is already out for the year, while Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Bruin are currently nursing injuries of their own. With Dempsey now ruled out for Seattle's next game, March 31 vs. Montreal, that's another lineup complication for manager Brian Schmetzer. Fortunately for the Sounders, that's the only game they'll play until April 15. The odd idle period of rest and recovery is needed.
II. VAR to RSL vs. RBNY
Another decisive implementation of VAR took place at Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real Salt Lake was awarded a penalty after a Carlos Rivas takedown in the box.
Albert Rusnak converted on the ensuing spot kick, and RSL made a winner of manager Mike Petke against his former club.
III. He did not see that coming
Perhaps the most notable instance of VAR took place in Atlanta, where Vancouver Whitecaps center back rock Kendall Waston was eventually given marching orders in the 13th minute of a scoreless game. The incident in question was an elbow on a free kick, in which Leandro Gonzalez Pires hit the deck. Waston's reaction, when he learns the red card is for him, is priceless.
Give Atlanta United a man advantage, and they'll make you pay. That much was clear in the 4-1 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, sparked by the first of Josef Martinez's third goals, which came off the ensuing penalty after the card. One has to wonder what kind of a result we would have seen had one of MLS's top defenders had the chance to lock horns with Martinez for the full 90.
IV. Josef Martinez, hat trick specialist
Speaking of Martinez, the Venezuelan forward has played in 23 MLS regular season games. In those 23 games, he has four hat tricks and is now one shy of tying Stern John and Diego Serna's all-time MLS regular season record of five. John achieved that tally in 55 games, while it took Serna 124 to get there. Safe money is on Martinez shattering that standard.
That kind of production just isn't fair–and it's another feather in the cap of Atlanta's technical side for landing a player of Martinez's caliber from the jump.
V. Golazo or horrendous defending?
There's no doubt that Graham Zusi got all of this one, and the shot itself is beautiful. But what, exactly, is Shea Salinas doing pulling away here and passing Zusi off, and what, precisely, is Anibal Godoy hoping to accomplish by going to ground when he does? The Earthquakes certainly didn't go out of their way to prevent this from happening.
VI. Something nutty always happens at the Maryland SoccerPlex
The Maryland SoccerPlex has been the home of the NWSL's Washington Spirit and has hosted a number of U.S. Open Cup matches and various college and youth tournaments over the years. The venue is intimate, limited and charming and has been the site of countless quintessential Open Cup moments.
So when Luciano Acosta scored an equalizer in the snow in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time, salvaging D.C. United's 2-2 draw vs. the Houston Dynamo perhaps it was only appropriate that it took place where it did.
As to why D.C. is playing a game at a venue of that stature, it had two scheduling holes to fill while the brand new Audi Field reaches completion. The next one-night-only home stadium will be Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, for a date with the Columbus Crew on April 14 ahead of a two-month road trip before opening night in D.C.'s new, long-awaited digs.
VII. Not everyone loves what the Maryland SoccerPlex has to offer
DaMarcus Beasley: Not pleased!
Just when I thought @MLS was getting better in every aspect, todays “conditions” were unacceptable!! From the locker room to the “training” room(which was jus an area blocked by curtains next to the vending machines) kids volleyball goin on, it was a circus. #unacceptable— DaMarcus Beasley (@DaMarcusBeasley) March 17, 2018
Points well taken. Fortunately, this is not a permanent home solution.
VIII. Chilean winners
Jeisson Vargas and Felipe Gutierrez are in vastly different stages of their careers, but the two Chileans had something in common over the weekend: Match-winning goals.
The 20-year-old Vargas's came in a bit of a stunner, with the Montreal Impact perhaps taking advantage of a CCL-induced weary Toronto FC in a 1-0 triumph at the Olympic Stadium.
Gutierrez, meanwhile, scored what wound up being Sporting KC's winner. At the time, it gave SKC a 3-1 edge, but Chris Wondolowski's stoppage-time finish ensured that Gutierrez's goal–his third of the season already–was needed. The 35-capped Chilean international is already looking like one of the signings of the season.
IX. No Villa, no problem for NYCFC
No. 9 goes to the only side with nine points through three weeks. And while David Villa remains one of MLS's most valuable players, NYCFC found a way without its centerpiece against a wobbly Orlando City side to improve to that 3-0-0 mark.
Wishing all the best to my teammates today against Orlando City. I will be cheering for you.— David Villa (@Guaje7Villa) March 17, 2018
Unfortunately I won’t be able to play today due to a minor injury. I tried my best to recuperate in time for today's game, but it just wasn't possible. Let’s go @NYCFC! pic.twitter.com/UoAvQzogTq
It was Ismael Tajouri (with help from an atrocious back pass-goalkeeper pass combination) and Maxi Moralez (off another assist from new rising star Jesus Medina) doing the damage to keep Patrick Vieira's well-balanced side chugging along.
X. Get this man another scarf
After a second straight 2-1 win, Minnesota United is back on track after what appeared to be an ominous season opener, and most important for the Loon faithful, they've got one of our own second-guessing another pointed season prediction.
Sensing I might have gotten it wrong on Minnesota United.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) March 17, 2018
In case you need a refresher, impassioned Minnesota supporters created this gem last season:
We'll restrain from declaring Minnesota a contender in 2018 until we see a larger sample size, especially with Kevin Molino done for the season with an ACL tear, but if the Darwin Quintero rumblings come to fruition, then perhaps another scarf could be put into production.
XI. Teen spirit
There's plenty of angst and hand-wringing over the lack of productive minutes given to teenage American stars on the rise, but some of those seeing the field endured some breakthrough moments.
USA U-17 star Andrew Carleton recorded the first assist of his career as part of Josef Martinez's hat trick. The 17-year-old has played 17 career MLS minutes in two seasons, something that should grow substantially this season and will if he keeps delivering Georgia peaches of a pass like this:
In Philadelphia, 19-year-old defender Auston Trusty continues to look the part, and he had a big say in the Union's 0-0 draw against the surging Columbus Crew. The visitors had scored multiple goals in their first two matches, but they were stifled on the road in the lone goalless match of the season. While neither Carleton nor Trusty was part of the youth-heavy USMNT roster called in for the upcoming friendly vs. Paraguay, they'll most certainly be on the radar moving forward for whoever is leading the men's program.