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Sobering Up After the USL-1 Final

Saturday was a bit of a rough day for me. I had to work the next morning, so my strategy of "getting right liquored up" was a pretty poor one in hindsight. I effed with my elderly Palm on various unsecured WiFi spots as I staggered through downtown Vancouver, writing my half-recap on this very site and sending various inappropriate Twitter messages. I even implied that Duane Rollins was an alcoholic while staggering drunkenly through Vancouver at 2:30 in the afternoon, which takes a certain sort of chutzpah.

(For the record: I made the "is it too early to switch to hard liquor?" joke at the Lions Pub immediately after the Impact scored to go up 2-0. When they later built on that lead, it was no longer a joke.)

I played some blackjack, which is probably the best drunk activity ever invented. I spend $5 on something called a smoked salmon wrap. I spent the rest of the ferry ride home regretting that expenditure and wound up sauntering through Esquimalt with a bottle of Southern Comfort clutched furtively in my hand singing an Irish lament for Randy Edwini-Bonsu.

What is wrong with me, anyway? I became an official Whitecaps Fan on June 18, 2009, a date you should recognize if only because of the Je me souviens banner waving in the Southside two Saturdays ago. When we somehow scraped and clawed our way into the playoffs and then though the playoffs, even defeating the hated Portland Timbers in one of the best two-leg matches you ever will see, I was happy, but I sure didn't get thunderingly hammered and send ecstatic Palm-based Twitter messages saying "wooooooooo! the Timbers Army sucks cocks in hell!" Plus I am a Canada fan first and foremost. I wonder if I just like losing.

Actually, no, I don't wonder, because that game was horseshit and Dave Gantar, the referee, is up for induction into the Benito Archundia Hall of Fame. There was an old joke back in the Aviators days about how the Montreal Impact bought their players and they bought their referees. Like all jokes that strike a little too close to home, it was never really funny so much as painful.

I'm not seriously alleging corruption; that with the Whitecaps heading to MLS in 2011 and the Impact softening their stance towards the new league ownership the league office might want to throw Saputo some love. Stade Saputo is an intimidating place to referee by USL-1 standings, and when 12,000 screaming Hondurans Montrealers are rewarding every dive with a demand for a red card, it can be easy for a non-professional referee to be influenced by it.

I was a hard-nosed, physical defender back in the days when I could sprint the length of a football pitch without collapsing, so I have my opinions on Shaun Pejic's slide tackle to win the ball after Jay Nolly had been beaten. The defender has as much right to the ball as the attacker does. A striker does not receive magical protection simply by virtue of having temporary possession. Pejic's slide clipped the ball neatly, sending it out of harm's way, and only Roberto Brown's overrunning made him hit Pejic's legs at all. When he went down (a bit too easily, in my opinion), that was just football. Pejic had played the ball and not the man and he had hit his challenge perfectly. Gantar's call was either ludicrous over-protectionism or swayed by the Montreal support, packed on the eastern end of the stadium: the fans were up in arms as fans will be on every seemingly borderline play.

(Having stood in those very stands, there's no way you can see a foul in that close to the goal. Forget it. Brown just fell over and that was good enough for them.)

Was the referee just concerned about protecting strikers from physical play? Hardly. Fast forward to later in the match. The Whitecaps are down and out. Randy Edwini-Bonsu is hauling ass on the ball again. He has speed to burn but not enough moves and he's reluctant to lay the ball off: this was one of his worse matches because he seemed determined to do it all by himself. But this time it works, and he simply outruns the Impact defenders. The last man back for the Impact takes a few steps forward to meet Edwini-Bonsu about twelve yards from the goal as Edwini-Bonsu is preparing for his shot, and drives Edwini-Bonsu to the ground. The ball did not so much as alter its path. It was a simple shoulder charge, a penalty in any rule book except, apparently, the one Dave Gantar was calling from.

This is without even getting into Shaun Pejic's red card, which only the most blinded Montreal Ultras are even trying to defend. Or the fact that Roberto Brown was offside on Vancouver's second goal. Or the missed throw-in calls and various hard Montreal tackles that were overlooked and blatant Montreal dives that were rewarded. Dave Gantar had a horrible, horrible game, and it went entirely in the Impact's favour. Perhaps he was simply swayed by the crowd, although it is amazingly appropriate that the picture for his Facebook profile is a Whitecaps player protesting as Gantar sends him off.

Gantar was also responsible for the debacle of a game between the Whitecaps and the Carolina Railhawks at Swangard Stadium in August, when he called a vital game decidedly in favour of the Railhawks, including denying an obvious goal for Marlon James. These are not his only incidents. He is just not a good referee and not fit to be officiating the final of North America's second division.

The first, often unspoken question after a football match is always "did the better team win?" What Impact fans, as well as Whitecaps fans, should be upset about is that Gantar made sure we could not know.