Vancouver FC head coach Afshin Ghotbi was none too pleased with decisions from the officials that went against his team in their 1-0 loss at Valour FC on Sunday.
“It seems like every time our players sneeze or cough, we get a yellow card” exclaimed an exasperated Ghotbi in the post-match press conference. But how much did the officiating affect the match? Let’s look back and delve into the facts and stats of the game.
Callum “Saint” Irving to the rescue
If there is a player that Vancouver would perhaps erect a statue for in five or ten years’ time, the clear frontrunner right now is Callum Irving. The 30-year-old Vancouver native has been immense for Vancouver FC so far this season, especially in his last few games. After an inspiring display against Forge FC that carried his team to their first home victory, he continued his heroics in Winnipeg.
Irving made three crucial, diving saves in the first half that kept Vancouver level at the break. One was a world-class save on Ulloa, who somehow got a clean run on goal. Another was a clean parry on Diego Gutierrez, whose slaloming run got him one-on-one with Irving. His third one was a full-stretch save at his near post to deny Pacifique Niyongabire from breaking the deadlock in the closing stages of the first half.
And although he was finally beaten thanks to a well-taken penalty from the man who he denied earlier, Gutierrez, he still was a rock throughout the match, commanding his box and organizing his defence. It will be interesting to see how long Vancouver can rely on Irving to bail them out of trouble. But as long as they have him, they can trust in his safe pair of hands.
Stone-cold penalty reflects a team still growing
Thanks to those Irving heroics, Vancouver kept it 0-0 until the 56th minute, when young right-back James Cameron bundled over Dante Campbell in his own box. Referee Myriam Marcotte pointed straight to the spot, despite protests from the surrounding Eagles players. Upon replay, it was clear that Cameron caught Campbell before he could get the ball, in what was a tackle of desperation.
Up until that point, Cameron was having a decent game. He had made the most tackles in the match with four, completing seven passes into the final third, and making 10 recoveries. However, that tackle showed once again that these players are young and inexperienced, as Campbell cleverly shielded the ball in a way to invite the tackle, which the young BC native could not resist.
In the wake of that penalty, all the energy of Vancouver seemingly deflated. After the match, Ghotbi was disappointed in his team’s mentality after the penalty.
“Our reaction as a team, I was not happy about, being down 1-0,” Ghotbi said post-game. “We needed to come out of our shell, show ourselves, play more football, create more opening, and I think we didn’t do that very well”.
They will have to pick themselves up once more as their fight to qualify for the playoffs continues next Sunday at home to York United.
A case of bad discipline or bad officiating?
Gael Sandoval was a somber figure post-match, his face reflecting clear frustration at his team’s performance, while also pointing out that the result was not just bad for his team.
“I think the referees in this league need help,” Sandoval said, describing his wish for added support to the officiating.
Vancouver have had a bit of bad luck when it has come to cautions and expulsions this season. The worst of those calls befell Rocco Romeo, who was suspended for multiple games after what seemed to be an innocuous challenge in the air against Cavalry in the club’s home opener. Despite the club appealing, his suspension was only reduced from three matches to two. A ridiculous decision given how ambiguous the original call was.
Nevertheless, Vancouver are tied for the most cautions in the CPL so far with 31, level with York United and Halifax Wanderers. Ghotbi has insisted previously that his team is not a dirty one, but rather one who have been unfairly treated by officials on multiple occasions.
“Just because we are an expansion team and a young team, they [the officials] are being harsh on us,” claimed Ghotbi after the Valour match.
There have been calls for VAR to be implemented into the league since the beginning of the season, with various questionable calls occurring seemingly every week. Perhaps Ghotbi and his team do have a point that there needs to be support for the referees in the league, but that cannot account for all 31 of their yellow cards.
Vancouver have to work within their limits to keep those cautions down for the rest of the season, or until further support can be implemented, otherwise they will find themselves missing bodies at the most crucial time of the year.