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“Disastrous” Refereeing Marrs Dramatic Whitecaps Playoff Match

MLS: MLS Cup Western Conference First Round-Game 2-Los Angeles FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the Whitecaps Playoff Match

VANCOUVER, BC – The Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2023 MLS play-off run came to an unceremonious end on Sunday at BC Place, in a dramatic 1-0 defeat to LAFC that was full of controversy. ‘Caps coach Vanni Sartini was sent-off in the dying moments of the match, reflecting the state of the game come full-time.

“The Referee Was A Disaster” – Whitecaps vs LAFC Review in a Whitecaps Playoff Match

Lacklustre ‘Caps Saved By Dramatic Antics

The Vancouver Whitecaps knew that this was the “make-or-break” match of their season. They previously were thrashed in L.A. 5-2 by the home side, and needed to get a victory at home to keep the series alive. There was further pressure added by the club announcing a record-breaking attendance expected for the Whitecaps at BC Place, with the finally count clocking in at over 30 thousand.

But for all the excitement going into the match, it was apparent that either nerves or lack of experience was playing a part in these Whitecaps players. Players were making uncharacteristic mistakes all over the pitch. From the defense playing long balls to no one, to the midfield messing up simple one-two’s, to the attack hesitating in their decision-making, costing them the opportunity to attack. The first half ended with zero shots on target for the ‘Caps, despite being the home side.

What was a saving grace for the ‘Caps is that most of the attention from the fans was towards the referee for the majority of the match. Head official Timothy Ford called a contentious penalty for LAFC in the 22nd minute. Looking back at the replay, it was not clear whether there was enough contact from Ranko Veselinovic to merit awarding a penalty, but Ford pointed at the spot regardless, with VAR content to let it stand. Denis Bouanga then dispatched the penalty to gain the lead.

There were several other contentious calls, such as a potential red card on Mario Gonzalez for a dangerous tackle of ‘Caps ‘keeper Yohei Takaoka, a penalty shout for Richie Laryea in the LAFC box. And, of course, the obstruction of Alessandro Schopf at the death that almost led to LAFC’s second, if not for Carlos Vela forgetting the fine print of the offside rule. All this to say, the fans still got an entertaining and eventful night, despite a poor performance from the homeside.

Vanni Sartini Likely Facing Lengthy Ban

It’s one thing to get suspended for dissent towards the referee in the match. But Vanni Sartini then proceeded to come back on the pitch after full-time, flip the one-finger salute, and storm to the changing room. And this was all before he spoke out to media.

“The Canucks were here watching the game, so probably their better suited than me to comment on what the referee did to Schopfy” said Sartini after the match to media, “because it was a beautiful thing, a kind of enforcer… he basically fouled Schopfy.”

“The referee was a disaster, we have to be completely honest. The referee was a disaster, everyone can have a bad performance, and today they gave probably their worst performance of the season.”

Sartini is no stranger to being outspoken on his beliefs, which is what makes him one of the more endearing coaches in the league. But his outburst and further comments throughout the press conference will likely not go down well with the head honchos at MLS. It would not be surprising to see if the league chooses to make an example out of Sartini for his antics. With the shortage of referees that is becoming apparent across the world at the moment, referee abuse is something that is to be taken seriously. The league may then take it as an opportunity to throw the book at him and set a precedent.

So Close, Yet So Far: What’s Next for ‘Caps?

Sunday night proved that the Whitecaps, while capable of playing some truly scintillating football, still lack that something extra to truly play with the big boys. It’s been apparent throughout the season that players like Ryan Gauld and Brian White can reach some pretty extraordinary levels that rival other MVP candidates, but seem to go missing when play-offs hit.

READ MORE: Three Takeaways: Whitecaps Win The Voyageurs Cup

At their best, the Whitecaps can beat just about anyone, as they have proven with some huge wins this season. The 3-2 win over LAFC in California, the 3-0 win over Montreal at home, and even the recent 3-0 thrashing of Western Conference champions St. Louis CITY. But what they need is a little more experience and cover in important areas, so that when certain players start to falter, whether due to injury, fatigue or mentality, they can still get the job done as a team.

If the Whitecaps can get just a few more key additions in the defense and in the attack, then next year might be the year that they finally channel all that good will and hard work into something tangible in MLS.


Photo Credit: Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports, of a Diego Palacios Headshot and a Richie Laryea Headshot, on November 5, 2023.


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