Vancouver - New England Post-Game: The Real Story Wasn't the Referee

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 6: John Thorrington #11 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC argues a red card call on teammate Gershon Koffie #28 with an official during their MLS game April 6, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

We Vancouver Whitecaps fans have seen bad refereeing before, of course. That's not the story, no matter how much a certain parasite in yellow wanted it to be. His sendings-off of Gershon Koffie for Vancouver and A.J. Soares for New England, as well as his other acts of arbitrary capriciousness, were actions of a man determined to get into the limelight. We've all met referees like that, and, because of his desire to see his name written in the pages of the world, I will not recite it here. No Google hits for you at this site, sir.

Here's the story. Do you fully appreciate the lineup the Vancouver Whitecaps ended this game with? Goal, Jay Nolly (the expected backup before the season started). Defense, Jonathan Leathers, Michael Boxall, Alain Rochat, and Blake Wagner (a Kansas City cast-off, a supplementary draft pick, a guy who is more excellent with every game but spent most of this one out of position, and a player whose MLS signing was met with open ridicule). Midfield, Nizar Khalfan, John Thorrington, and Kevin Harmse (a player who couldn't get into the lineup every day last year with the Division Two Whitecaps, an injured old man, and the debut of a battered old journeyman who was released from his last two teams without playing a game). Forward, Atiba Harris (another cast-off, and one with possibly the worst finishing boots in Vancouver).

Read that again. These players held the undefeated New England Revolution to a draw? This selection of castoffs and nobodies? Just three of our best eleven on the field, two men short, and we got a draw? Replace Rochat with a good division two left back; say, Zurab Tsiskaridze. Put that team in that position against... I don't know, AC St. Louis. The NSC Minnesota Stars. One of those mid-table NASL teams. Tell me what happens. Nine times out of ten they get their asses handed to them, that's what happens.

I can't blame the team for giving up that last-ditch equalizer. Stoppage time giveth and stoppage time taketh away. The Whitecaps did a masterful job of keeping New England off balance, of attacking and attacking and attacking some more. By the end of the game it had worn them out and they had no more left to give. If they hadn't pressed, if they'd let New England pass the ball around at will, we never would have gotten that red card on Soares and the result would have been far worse than a draw. One lucky gust of wind and we win 1-0 in yet another legendary result.

You know what? This result should still be legendary. The Vancouver Fucking Whitecaps. They might be missing most of their players, but the ones that are left have big enough hearts to make up for it. They don't know when they're beaten. I fell in love with this team a couple years ago, but I'm falling in love all over again. This is far from the most talented team in Major League Soccer, but where it counts they might be the best.

Because this is a post-game thread, I should probably talk about what happened on the field. I don't know much; I listened to it on the radio because I was stuck at work. I do know that Eric Hassli received one of the most immature red cards of all time. He took his first yellow for a tackle that was, by all accounts, a questionable call. It doesn't matter, though. Hassli started the game on the bench, perhaps as a punishment for his disciplinary foibles in Philadelphia. He takes a yellow card almost immediately, he scores from the spot, and then he takes off his shirt. That's an automatic yellow in the Laws of the Game. He had another shirt on beneath it, of course. He did not delay the game, he wasn't unsportsmanlike unless you consider a salute to the fans the essence of bad sportsmanship. But the Laws are explicit.

A sentient lifeform, capable of making his own decisions, wouldn't give Hassli a second yellow card. But referees are not sentient lifeforms. They are soccer's equivalent to protozoa. They have big legs and tiny little brains, and the only thing they know how to do is call the Laws of the Game.

So common sense gave way to inflexible rules, and Hassli was sent off as the Laws say he must. How could he think anything different would happen, though? The rule is not "it's a yellow if you have no shirt on", it's "it's a yellow if you take your shirt off." Hassli, I know, is not a fluent English speaker. Perhaps it's phrased differently in the French translation of the Laws of the Game, or perhaps he got bad advice. Either way, it was a hell of a time to test the theory: riding a yellow card, already down a man, and recently suspended.

And I'm sure there'll be people criticizing Teitur Thordarson for not sitting back and letting his players conserve their energy. By all accounts (again, I was listening on the radio) the remaining Whitecaps were utterly exhausted in the final fifteen minutes, holding out like the Spartans at Thermopylae but ultimately, certainly doomed. But had the Whitecaps set back, they would have been picked apart. The Revolution aren't a hapless team, but Vancouver managed to put them on their heels. So what if the fatigue eventually caused them to slip and allow the tying goal? It was better than the alternative!

And besides, the Whitecaps kept generating chances! Atiba Harris had a couple gilt-edged shots at goal. If one of those goes in (i.e. if one of those isn't taken by Atiba Harris), it's all over and we're dancing into the night. Of course, if Nizar Khalfan doesn't hack that ball off the line in the first half, we're never even considering what might have been. From the sounds of things the Whitecaps had the edge in play even men down, but given that it was a pro-Whitecaps broadcast I was listening to with updates from a bunch of Whitecaps fans in the game day thread, well, I don't know.

Immediately after the game, I thought the Whitecaps were simultaneously lucky not to have lost (because, well, they were down to nine men) and unlucky not to have won (because of the way they moved the ball against New England even if they had three guys on the field). I'm still not sure which is the more accurate. What I do know is that, once again, the Whitecaps have proven that they can cope with the difficult conditions of MLS. We've had a lot of "moral victories" in the last week; at some point we probably want three points. But that'll come. Right now, this team has to prove to themselves that they can do it too.

I'm not giving out the usual Game Ball and Most Disappointing awards because, well, I didn't see the game. I'm going to try and catch a recording and might award them after the fact. My instinct was that the game ball went to Jay Nolly and the most disappointing went to Atiba Harris, but that's not official.

Next Up: the Whitecaps take their moral victory parade on the road to Houston, Texas, where they face the Houston Dynamo Sunday at 4 PM PDT. The match will be on Sportsnet Pacific.

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