Another game, another loss for the new-look Vancouver Whitecaps. But the most recent 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake has to be put into perspective.
In only their second game under coach Marc Dos Santos, the Whitecaps were handed plenty of adversity in the form of a controversial penalty. So while they failed to get anything tangible from their road match, there were still plenty of positives to take away from the game.
The penalty controversy
Before talking about the positives, we need to address the penalty called against the Whitecaps in the first half.
Jake Nerwinski never touched Real Salt Lake striker Corey Baird before he went into a dive. Contact was only made after Baird was already almost down to the ground. The lack of contact was clearly visible on the first replay made available during the live broadcast of the match.
The question then is: Why was this play not checked by the official?
Real Salt Lake pool reporter Alex Vejar posed both the initial question and a follow-up question to the officials after the match at Rio Tinto Stadium and provided Pro Soccer USA with the responses.
Vejar asked: “What convinced you to uphold the penalty call in the 21st minute? What did the booth to say about their view of the play?”
“The [Video Assistant Referee] indicated that the check was complete and the penalty kick was confirmed,” the referee team told Vejar.
I acted as pool reporter for the #RSL game and asked the referees about the penalty kick that was upheld. Here is the response I got:
“The VAR indicated that the check was complete and the penalty kick was confirmed.”
— Alex Vejar (@AlexVReporting) March 10, 2019
It is an answer that leads to even further questions. Was the referee’s decision not viewed as a clear and obvious error? Did the VAR simply miss the call, or spot it but believe it was the right decision?
Dos Santos had his own opinion on the incident.
“Yeah, it’s tough because I have three kids, right, and I don’t want to spend money because I say stupid things,” Dos Santos said after the game, referencing the possibility of being fined by the league for speaking out about the refs. “Just watch it. Everybody should watch it, and then everybody should find their opinion.”
Growing into the game
For the Whitecaps, the penalty ultimately led to a 1-0 loss against a very strong Real Salt Lake City side.
Based on the first-half performance by the Whitecaps alone, it would have even been a justified result. The Whitecaps struggled to hold onto the ball and were below the 80-percent mark in pass completion for much of the first 45 minutes.
“It was a game that at least we wanted one point from. We worked ourselves into the game. We showed up again in the second half,” Dos Santos said. “But there was a lot of very good moments in the first half before the penalty.”
Dos Santos was right. At moments, the Whitecaps had opportunities in the first half.
But overall, they sat too deep in their half and did not follow the gameplan of completing short passes and holding the majority of the possession. Possession did even out by the end of the game.
“Coming away in MLS, you have to find ways to pick up points, and today we generally feel that we should be coming away with something,” midfielder Andy Rose said after the game.
Said Dos Santos: “I felt that the guys who are always in the game, always tried. We pushed we had the players coming in. Well, I felt every sub came in brought something to the table.”
A defeat, yes, but the Caps had to come back from a controversial penalty decision with a brand-new side against a club that reached the Western Conference semifinals last season.