There’s just something about Vancouver and referees that always has this city’s sports fans going mad.
The conspiracy theorists come out in full force whenever controversy strikes between the officials and the Vancouver Canucks, no matter how minor. However, the difference with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC is that there isn’t a widely held opinion that the league is out to spite their team at every available opportunity.
Instead, the general consensus is that Major League Soccer officials are just that bad.
In Saturday’s 1-0 road defeat to the lowly Colorado Rapids (2-2-7), the Whitecaps (6-5-2) were awarded a free kick within striking distance for Pedro Morales, who came on as a substitute for Matias Laba just minutes before.
With 10 minutes left in the match and a chance to draw even, Morales curled the ball into the top right corner of the goal. What looked to be a good goal was called back by referee José Carlos Rivero, who felt that Whitecaps defender Pa-Modou Kah had committed an infraction while standing in the wall of Colorado players.
“[Rivero] just said that he assumed, or thought that Pa was pushing into the wall, which was interesting because after the game Sjoberg, the big defender for them (Colorado) said no, he didn’t push him and it proves it on the TV that there was no contact,” said Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson post-game.
On TV it looked as if Kah, who was standing on the end of the wall and darted to his right, across the entire length of the wall, as Morales went to strike the ball, in order to create a hole in the wall from where he previously stood for the ball to travel through.
There was little to no contact on the play.
Yet, that wasn’t the only moment of controversy within the game. On Colorado’s goal, it looked as if Gershon Koffie had been fouled before the Rapids picked up the ball, traveled down the pitch and slotted home the winner off of a beautiful sequence of offensive skill from Gabriel Torres and Luis Solignac.
Throughout the game there were similar plays that left you scratching your head. Tackles that warranted a foul call and possible bookings went uncalled, while softer challenges were blown down and at times booked.
“I’m gutted for the guys in there,” said Robinson. “I really am because I thought we put on a decent away performance. For them, they’re upset in there and they’re upset because it hurts.
“Three players of mine (Kianz Froese, Gershon Koffie and Kendall Waston) get booked. I think we had 10 or 12, 13 fouls, and [Colorado] had 25 fouls and two players get booked.
“Trying to explain to the group when decisions go against them is hard when you feel it’s unjustified.”
It’s no secret that MLS officiating holds a reputation of being a bit amateurish, especially compared to other top leagues around the world, most notably Europe. Looking at the number of cards MLS referees have dished out so far this season, as of May 18 of this year, there have been 381 yellow cards and 30 red cards in 105 games, which equates into 3.63 yellow cards given per game and 0.29 red cards given per game.
Referee Ted Unkel leads all officials this year with 38 yellow cards and four red cards in seven games. That is 5.43 yellow cards per game and 0.57 red cards per game.
Last season, in 324 MLS games played, there were 1060 yellow cards and 87 red cards, equaling 3.27 yellow cards per game and 0.27 red cards per game.
For the 2014/15 Barclay’s Premier League season in England, there has been an average of 3.7 yellow cards per game and 0.19 red cards per game, excluding the final match-day games.
In not quite half of an MLS regular season, there have been more red cards given out and almost as many yellow cards as a full season of the top flight in England. There are other factors that can contribute to these numbers, such as overall style of league play, so we shouldn’t read too much into them yet, but they are definitely something to keep an eye on.
Regardless of the officiating, the Whitecaps were beaten, by the last-placed team in the Western Conference, in a game where they lacked the composure to finish in the final third.
When they did find that quality, they were denied.