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VAR overshadows bigger problems for Vancouver Whitecaps

Apr 12, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) reacts with defender Doneil Henry (2) during the second half against the Chicago Fire at SeatGeek Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) reacts with defender Doneil Henry (2) during the second half against the Chicago Fire at SeatGeek Stadium. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

The Vancouver Whitecaps will once again feel aggrieved. After being gifted a goal by former Caps’ keeper David Ousted in the 53rd minute, the Chicago Fire managed to equalize thanks to a penalty scored by Nemanja Nikolics in the 84th minute.

Once again, the Whitecaps were hit by a controversial decision after the official consulted the video assistant referee (VAR). The problem was, on Canadian television no angle was available that showed the ball hit Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry’s arm. And Whitecaps fans, in particular, were wondering whether this was a “clear and obvious error” that could stipulate a penalty call. 

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which oversees the laws of the game is, quite clear. A call can be overturned after consulting VAR only in the event of a “clear and obvious error’” or “serious missed incident” in relation to:

  • goal/no goal
  • penalty/no penalty
  • direct red card (not second caution)
  • mistaken identity when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player of the offending team

In other words, the VAR system was used properly to take a second look at whether Henry handled the ball. And based on the video angles available in the States, the officiating team got it right. The ball not only hit Henry’s arm, but the defender also enlarged his body, which meant a penalty had to be given. A tough call, but the right one. 

Back in Canada, viewers could only guess whether it was the correct call, and Vancouver’s coaching staff was also baffled. 

“In six games, we’ve been with VAR like every day,” Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos told Pro Soccer USA  of the video review process. “I have to start putting it in training to bring it part of training. I don’t know. But (the ref) told me, he promised me it’s a penalty shot. I’m going to have a look at all the angles and have my opinion.”

After the fact, the penalty call might be a blessing in disguise for the Whitecaps. Overall, the debate on whether the referee team made the right call took away from the fact the Caps were once again poor. 

The Whitecaps may have taken the lead in the 53rd minute, but the team was struggling. Dos Santos was brought in ahead of the season to reform the club, to move away from what was widely called Roboball under former head coach Carl Robinson. 

Robinson’s soccer had a reputation of being uninspiring and based on simply hitting the opponent on counterattacks. Possession football and creativity in midfield was all handed off to fast players who struggled to control the game’s most important tool, the ball. 

Apr 5, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos heads onto the pitch before the start of the first half against the LA Galaxy at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Under Dos Santos, there are signs the Whitecaps are somewhat moving away from that style of soccer. At the same time, however, the Chicago Fire dominated all key statistics in this game. 

The Fire had 60 percent possession and managed to complete 82 percent of their 588 passes throughout the game. In comparison, the Whitecaps completed 69 percent of their 403 passes. Chicago also dominated Vancouver in terms of chances, with 12 shots on goal compared to three.

Vancouver goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau was one of the best Whitecaps players on the pitch that evening at the SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill. 

Vancouver’s staff will, of course, point out this is all part of the process and that further signings will be made during the summer to address the many issues. Going by Friday’s performance, the Caps lack experience on defense, speed in midfield and a proven goalscorer. 

There has also been talk about a new sporting director coming in to oversee the signings of players and overall creation of a plan. Some names suggested for that role include former Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger, a German-Canadian who has worked successfully in soccer and hockey and is also linked with a front office job at the Edmonton Oilers

The Whitecaps need time. 

Against Chicago, however, there was no progress. The Whitecaps played a poor game against a side that also had a relatively bad start to the season, with just one win from the first five games heading into the match. 

There also has been relatively little progress in to the sort of playing style promised to fans ahead of the season. Heading into Matchday 5 the Whitecaps were 21st out of 24 teams in terms of possession (46.1 percent) and were only 18th in passes completed (78.8 percent). 

But at times, Dos Santos’ soccer philosophy shines through and there seems to be a plan in place to improve. But Vancouver’s fanbase is impatient after years of false promises and wants results sooner rather than later.

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