Ismail Elfath. What can you say about that referee that wouldn’t resort me to typing a 1000 word expletive laden match report? Today wasn’t the first time that Vancouver Whitecaps have had trouble with the official, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Elfath’s use of VAR to send off ‘Caps captain Kendall Waston in the 13th minute and award Atlanta a penalty was certainly a game changer as Vancouver went down to a 4-1 defeat on Saturday evening. Would a full strength line-up have prevented the loss? Questionable. Would it have helped stop Josef Martinez hitting a hat-trick? Possibly. But we wouldn’t be sitting here once again talking about MLS officials and one in particular.
It was always going to be a tough task for the Whitecaps to head to Atlanta for the first time and come back with all three points against a big spending side packed with quality attacking talent. But the ‘Caps showed flashes, even with ten men, to suggest a 4-1 scoreline in an 11 v 11 encounter was perhaps not going to be the same outcome.
With left back Marcel de Jong out injured, Carl Robinson rang the changes, going with the much touted 3-5-2 formation to match up with Atlanta’s. That meant the Whitecaps debut for Jose Aja, with Nicolas Mezquida coming in for what proved to be a pretty invisible attacking midfielder role.
The other big change came up top. Kei Kamara’s groin strain meant he didn’t travel to Georgia, and Anthony Blondell got his first start, leading the Whitecaps line.
Atlanta started the stronger and Franco Escobar had a great chance to fire the home side ahead ten minutes in, as the ball fell to him in front of goal but Stefan Marinovic stood tall.
That looked like a massive let off for Vancouver but it only allowed referee Elfath to call for VAR to review Waston’s tangling with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in the box just before. After what took an age, and with Atlanta riling up the crowd by showing replays on the big screen, the man that’s haunted the ‘Caps before sent off the ‘Caps captain and pointed to the spot, much to disbelief of everyone in a white jersey.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) March 18, 2018
Martinez stepped up and struck home the opener and there was no looking back for the home side after that.
Atlanta could, and should, have been out of sight by half time squandering a number of good chances and dangerous balls across goal that had no takers.
The Whitecaps were still in it at half time and made a couple of attacking subs, bringing on Brek Shea and Erik Hurtado, but they fell two behind in the 58th minute when Julian Gressel sent a low ball in front of goal on a quick counter and Aaron Maund topped off some poor all round ‘Caps defending by turning the ball into his own net past Marinovic.
The ‘Caps nearly pulled one back straight from kick off but Shea was denied by Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan, and they were quickly punished by a quick Atlanta counter when Martinez was played in and wrong footed Marinovic to fire home his second, and the home side’s third.
Vancouver kept pressing and had a couple of chances, including Yordy Reyna hitting the post, finally getting on the scoresheet five minutes from full time when a perfectly placed ball over the top from Jordon Mutch sent Hurtado in on goal and he finished with aplomb for a late consolation.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) March 18, 2018
Atlanta weren’t done yet though and Martinez bagged his hat-trick, heading home a header from homegrown signing Andrew Carleton.
There’s no doubt Waston’s early dismissal contributed to Vancouver being left as dead men walking in Atlanta, but how much different it would have been otherwise we’ll never know. It’s a match the Whitecaps just have to put behind them. Not many of their Western counterparts will take points from visiting Atlanta and the ‘Caps at least have that tough test out of the way.
They need to show immediate bouncebackability when the up and down LA Galaxy come to B.C. Place next Saturday. With Waston already missing for international duty, his suspension will now be served the following week away to Columbus. How the ‘Caps will line up for this one, especially defensively, will now be the key question this coming week.
At least we won’t have Elfath again in the middle ruining things.
FINAL SCORE: Atlanta United 4 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
ATLANTA: Brad Guzan; Franco Escobar, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro González-Pirez; Julian Gressel, Darlington Nagbe, Jeff Larentowicz (Kevin Kratz 60), Chris McCann; Miguel Almirón; Héctor Villalba (Andrew Carleton 78), Josef Martínez (Romario Williams 90) [Substitutes not used:
Alec Kann, Greg Garza, Miles Robinson, Andrew Wheeler-Ominu]
VANCOUVER: Stefan Marinovic; José Aja, Kendall Waston, Aaron Maund; Jake Nerwinski, Efrain Juárez (Yordy Reyna 67), Felipe, Jordon Mutch, Alphonso Davies; Nicolás Mezquida (Brek Shea 46); Anthony Blondell (Erik Hurtado 55) [Substitutes not used: Brian Rowe, Sean Franklin, Cristian Techera, Russell Teibert]
On the red card:
“Shocking. Absolutely shocking. A shocking decision. For us to play down, or play 11 men against 11 in Atlanta is very difficult, we knew that. We had a game plan going into the game that was totally affected after five minutes. I think it took five minutes for the referees to try and overturn the decision. I get told that it has to be clear and obvious, clearly, it wasn’t. I agree with what most people have told me after the game and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It had a major impact on the game and unfortunately then it was an uphill battle for us, and we weren’t good enough to play 10 men against 11. Credit to them because they scored the goals, but it was a massive influence on the game which was a really poor decision.”
On if he was given an explanation on the red card:
“No. Three times, I think, I have had the same referee, and each time we have gone down to 10 men. I’m better off not probably talking to him. I’ll speak to Howard Webb because there’s a number of things I felt went against us. Even the yellow card situation with one or two of their guys, smart tactical decisions, substitutions from them and credit to them. I’ll speak to them next week, but it’s not acceptable.”
On how Vancouver responded after the red card:
“They didn’t give up. It is not easy to come here. They had a great result last week. My disappointment was the 42,000 coming, they will be happy that they got the win, of course, three points, but they didn’t see a proper game of football. It was affected by someone who didn’t need to affect the game. That’s a disappointing thing because we are always trying to grow this game in America and Canada. It should be about the teams and the players. (Josef Martinez) scores a hat trick today, and credit to him, but it will be overshadowed by the one decision which was wrong.”
On three Vancouver players who made their first starts in MLS:
“It’s not easy playing with 10 men, as we’ve said against a very good team. You have to run a little bit extra because you have to fill in for your mate that has just been sent off. They didn’t go under. They kept going. They were still blocking things at the end. They had a number of shots, but there weren’t many shots on goal, which is a credit to the group because they defended for their lives. Obviously, they got four goals, the score line is a little bit slanted. I thought when we got one goal with five minutes to go, we had a key chance to try and make it 3-2. If that would have gone in, who knows? It wasn’t our day from the fourth minute or the fifth minute.”
On Erik Hurtado scoring:
“I’m disappointed for the players in there, because when you put in that amount of work and it is affected by a bad decision, then you are obviously disappointed. But Erik (Hurtado) coming on as a sub, same as Brek Shea coming on and Yordy (Reyna), I changed it because the work they put in the first 45 minutes with 10 minutes was very hard. They are a good possession team. We know that. They have players in key areas that can score goals, which they showed. Sometimes, you have to take one on the chin. Today, we have to take one on the chin. A little bit unjustly, I believe. A little bit unfairly, but it won’t affect us. We will regroup. We will come back next week. We have a big home game in front of our passionate supporters, and hopefully, they can have the influence that these guys here had today and credit to all of their fans here.”
On the red card:
“Disappointed. To be honest, I don’t feel that it was a red card. My eyes were only on the ball and (Tito) Villalba was behind me, but what can I say? I cannot avoid the red card right now. I was really upset because I did not think I deserved that red card.”
On returning home:
“This was a tough one, but it will help us to make the anger positive. Now, when we play against any team, we will try to play as hard and win those games because we know that no one is going to give us anything for free. We have to fight against all adversity.”
On the match:
“It’s always hard going down a man so early in the game. I think the guys did really well trying to fill in for that red card. We fought 80-plus minutes with a man down and credit to them giving it everything they had.”
On his performance:
“Yeah, I came on late, got the opportunity to play and (I’m) super happy for that. Just trying to make the best of it. My team was able to find me in good spots, and I was able to get them on the counter attack.”
On returning home:
“We go home (to play) LA Galaxy on Saturday, so we just have to get into training this week and prepare for that.”
On how Vancouver’s red card impacted the game:
“Decisive. Any game where there is a player that gets sent off that early, and furthermore, on the same play we have a chance to score a goal, that is a before and after for the game.”
On the decisions made with VAR:
“I always say the same thing. I think the utilization of VAR should be regulated so that they’re not looking at every play, but only at major, decisive plays in the match. So whether it is a goal that goes in or doesn’t go in, whether it is a penalty given or not given, or something major like that. And I’m saying with the understanding that sometimes it will be in our favour us and sometimes it will not. The goal today, for example, I think I could see from my half of the field that it was the correct decision.”
On if he thought Josef Martinez would achieve so much success after transferring from Torino:
“Yes, honestly I thought he would be a decisive player for us. Because I saw him play with Venezuela, played against him, and saw him play in Copa America. He was a decisive player in Copa America and whenever he played in Venezuela. So to be honest, I have to say that I thought he would be that for us as well.”
On the missed opportunities in the first half:
“I was a little worried in the first half but it wasn’t because of the chances we were missing, it was more because after the expulsion of Watson I didn’t think we handled the game the way that we should have. I think that we should have circulated the ball more from side to side and had more possession. I think that we didn’t take enough advantage of the width of Julian Gressel and Chris McCann on the sides. I thought that when we did, we created good chances. I was also worried when Jeff got a yellow card.”
On the choice of formation for the game:
“I thought we played it well against D.C. so I thought it was prudent to play it again tonight. We thought that having two forwards with Josef and Tito, that they would be able to find space in between the defensive midfielders of Vancouver and the center backs. If they were able to do that, then their outside backs would likely push inside and we would be able to exploit the wings, using the width of the field when they received the ball.”
On Josef Martinez and the team being sharper in the second half:
“Mainly we just played faster in the second half. We were circulating the ball, moving the ball from side to side with two touches. And when you do that, you start opening up the defense and finding spaces. We were able to get the ball wide to Julian Gressel and Chris McCann and we were able to create chances that way.”
On Carleton’s giveaway leading to Vancouver’s goal:
“Nobody can say that Carleton was guilty or responsible for that goal because he is losing the ball in the opposing 18, it’s not like he is losing the ball at midfield. That is not the reason they scored on us. They scored because we were marking poorly and the ball still had to go 90 meters from where he lost the ball.”
On being one hat trick away from tying the all-time MLS record for career hat tricks:
“I don’t know, hopefully, I can get it but I just want to (show appreciation) and thank my teammates. We wanted to ratify the performance that we had last week but I didn’t know about the hat trick. I’m just trying to ratify the performance and keep getting better.”
On the changes the team made going into the second half:
“In the first half when they had a player get sent off, we kind-of took things calmly and that’s not what we had to do. We came into the locker room and Tata (Gerardo Martino) told us to be aggressive and have a different mindset, so that’s how we came out in the second half. Now each player has to recover and get ready for the next game.”
On his teammate Andrew Carleton coming in and getting an assist:
“If he’s giving me assists, I’m happy for him. He’s a player who’s doing things well. He’s got a lot of room to grow but he just has to keep doing things the way he (has been). With his head in the right spot (as he is) working for his place on the team, which I think he is earning.”
On if the game was easier than they expected especially after the red card:
“I didn’t actually see the incident he got red carded but, you know, sometimes going down a man can actually possibly make it harder in terms of getting an extra goal because they tend to sit in a little bit more. We had plenty of possessions, and I think in the first half we could’ve put the game to bed. We missed a couple of real good chances, and I think the boys were kicking themselves over them because they were easy enough chances to put away. We kept them going and I think once the second one went in, it made it a lot more comfortable for us. It was just nice to get another win, too, on the bounce. We’re starting to gather a bit of momentum now.”
On his left wingback role and how he settled into it during the game:
“As I’ve said before, once I’m playing, the manager put me in and I’ve got to do a job so wherever I’m meant to play, I’ll do the job as best as I can. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I think it was just maybe the counter-attack against the size of the Vancouver side as well. I think that was kind-of expanded by the big men coming forward on corners and stuff as well and (Kendall) Watson’s sending off kind-of paid for that. It’s nice to just get out there and play in front of a crowd.”
LEANDRO GONZALEZ PIREZ
On his confidence level:
“When (Kendall Watson) was (ejected), it was more comfortable for us because he is very strong in our area. Now, they didn’t have this man and it (got) easier (for us). We did (have) a lot of set pieces. We tried to manage them and I think we did (well).”
On the incident with Felipe after the match:
“Felipe gave a little kick to (Darlington) Nagbe. Nagbe got up and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and so, I just went over to make sure everything was alright and to get in the middle of it. Then, Felipe wanted to fight me. He wanted to fight everybody. I don’t know what he was doing. Maybe he should go to the UFC.”
On the difference Michael Parkhurst makes:
“Well, we had more people so its better for us. He has a good (tempo) and this is good for us because sometimes we mark one versus one and he is an (experienced) player. He gives us more confidence in the back but on the goal, I think we have to have more communication so these things don’t happen again. Now, we have to work for the next week until the next game so this does not happen anymore.”
On the overall defensive effort:
“Overall, it was great (and) obviously the red card changes the game. In these moments, we still need to be better in terms of closing out games and being smarter in certain situations. We’ll watch the tape this week and look at it and try to be better for when we go to Minnesota.”
On having a week off early in the season:
“I think we’re in a decent moment at the current time. Two good results. Two decent performances. It is what it is. You take it and you make sure we’re ready for when we go up (to Minnesota).”
On playing in a 3-5-2 formation:
“All the guys in front of me have good football brains. They’re all intelligent and at the end of the day, they’re good footballers. Regardless of (the formation) – however you want to call it – it’s 11 guys on the pitch and at the moment, we’ve got a good understanding of where guys are.”
On the chemistry that has developed along the backline since the season opener at Houston:
“I think today was a little bit different than last week. The setting changed the game and tilted it in our favor. Last week, in terms of our intensity and our ability to just compete at every level, it was much better than Houston. Today was a bit of the same, in terms of us getting after them and creating chances.”
On the keys to tonight’s game:
“Just having the right mentality. What we talked about before the game (was) that we didn’t want to take anything for granted. Playing at home, playing against a team that we figured would play deep and try to counter attack and play off set pieces, we just wanted to have that mentality that we are going to come out here, we are going to dominate the game (and) we’re going to take advantage of our opportunities. We didn’t quite do that in the first half. We should have put the game away before halftime, but a good response to start the second half. (It was) unfortunate to give up the goal there at the end, but we’re happy.”
On the adjustments the team made in the second half:
“We were more ruthless. We really wanted to get higher up the field. We thought, in the first half, that we were dropping off a little bit too much (and) giving them a little bit too much time to have possession. We wanted to get after them a little bit, play higher up the field, put them under pressure more and when we were able to do that, we were able to cause the own goal and get the third (goal) right away.”
On Josef Martinez being one hat trick away from tying the all-time MLS record for career hat tricks:
“He’s really good at scoring goals. He’s got that mentality. He’s just ruthless in front of the net. He just loves to score goals. He gets upset in trainings and games (and in) little games in training (where) we’re just goofing around, he gets upset if he doesn’t score goals. It’s just what he does. It’s what he loves to do and you can see it out there. He’s just always right in front of the goal. He puts so much pressure on the backline. I’m thankful I don’t have to play against him because he’s got to be tough to play against for 90 minutes. It’s impressive what he’s done so far in the league.”
On if there was a sense of urgency to score again after giving up a goal late:
“For me, I gave the ball away on top of the box and two seconds later the ball was in our goal. I was like, ‘I got to go get this back real quick.’ They almost made it 3-2 after that so I was like, ‘We’ve got to put this game to bed real quick.’ So yeah, there was a little bit of urgency and mostly just playing the flow of the game, it’s just what the game called for. It worked out well.”
On the relief of getting an assist before leaving for national team duty:
“Yeah, a few of the guys are going away on national team duty so it’s always an honor to play for your country. We’ve got a couple of weeks off – from Atlanta United at least – thankfully, unlike last year, I won’t be missing any first team games, which will be nice. We’ll see how it goes. I’m excited to play for the (U-20 national team) and see how that goes.”
On how his game is different from Tito Villalba in the same position:
“I think that Tito is a little more athletic than I am. He’s really good at making those runs in behind and that’s something I try to learn off of him. He’s really good at timing those runs through (and) behind the defense and so I was just coming in, since I’m not as athletic as him, trying to use my skill and combination plays to get behind the defense.”