Wheels-Up Wednesday: A few thoughts on Nelson's (no) goal, Carducci to Whitecaps
Referees need more help. Are they being given all the tools they need to succeed?
It was another difficult week for officials, with American referee Victor Rivas enduring the worst performance of the bunch, taking away a good goal from Toronto FC's Jayden Nelson in a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps last Sunday.
Nelson pounced on a rebound given up by Thomas Hasal, with the Whitecaps goalkeeper injuring his hand on the play. The referee (somehow) thought Hasal maintained possession on his initial save of Alejandro Pozuelo, and was subsequently injured on the challenge (shot attempt) by Nelson before the ball went into the back of the net. To the shock of, well, everyone watching, Rivas waved off the goal for the 'phantom' foul; a clear and obvious error by the referee.
A perfect time for VAR to interject? Apparently not, as VAR official Malik Badawi inexplicably failed to recommend the incident for review and for Rivas to potentially reverse the decision.
It was excruciating to watch. The game was delayed anyway with Hasal down injured on the field. Evidence on replay made it clear a mistake had been made. Yet we watched and waited in disbelief. Rivas never went to the monitor. The mistake never corrected despite having the means to do just that. VAR did not do its job in correcting a clear and obvious error. And sources say even after the game, the official continued to dig in his heels in claiming foul on the play. Sheer incompetence by those involved. An embarrassing moment for MLS, and an inexplicable one for a league that has invested heavily ensuring most on-field decisions end up correct.
Mistakes happen. We understand that. Especially in leagues like the Canadian Premier League that don’t have the assistance of VAR. Taking away the systematic failure of the incident on Sunday not using the technology available to get the call right, it's fair to suggest there is more that can be done to put on-field referees in a position to be more successful in getting calls right. And further steps can be made to improve communication in decision-making to players, coaches and fans in the process.
I recommend two changes be made to improve the standard of officiating and communication around controversial decisions.
1. Add a second referee to the field of play.
2. Broadcast the conversation between referee and VAR during reviewable decisions.
First, adding a second referee to the field of play would add another pair of eyes to oversee an increasingly more difficult game to officiate. More pressing and quick play by athletes who are fitter and faster than ever make it a real challenge for referees to regularly get split-second decisions right. A referee’s position and angle of seeing a play is the most important determining factor in making a correct call. Getting the best vantage point possible is paramount. Adding a second on-field referee would allow more ground to be covered, better more sight-lines of the field of play, and better angles for them to get calls right. The NHL moved to a two-referee system in 2000-01 season in a sport where time and space is limited. There is no reason this step cannot be made in soccer. A reallocation of resources is all that’s required to make this happen. The current role of the fourth official remains completely inefficient, relegated to playing the role of body guard between opposing benches and the gatekeeper for substitutions. Put that referee on the field and get more calls right.
Second, it's time soccer followed the lead of Rugby Union and publicly broadcast the conversation between referee and VAR during reviewable situations. Rugby Union provides transparency for their fans as their officials openly discuss what they are seeing on replays and their interpretation of the rules, live and in real-time. This conversation is aired in stadium and on the broadcast, leaving no doubt as to why any potentially controversial decision was made. Understanding the decision-making process without question and confusion is half the battle. Transparency is essential, and it's time soccer understands the more access it gives into how decisions are made, the more understanding and compassion will be given even when the call being made is subjective by nature. The clouds of secrecy in when and how VAR is being used without transparency leads to more pessimism and questions around the process. Putting referees in a position to explain their decisions would be beneficial to their cause as well.
These are two straight-forward steps that can be taken to get more calls right, while taking down the temperature when it comes to criticism of officials. The current state of play isn’t good enough. Everyone involved in the sport deserves better.
Now, a few thoughts...
... On Thomas Hasal and the Whitecaps GK issue
Hasal’s injury is a real blow to the Whitecaps, who clearly already miss at Maxime Crepeau at the position from a season ago.
Goalkeeping remains a position of need for Vancouver and an area, no matter Hasal’s short-term or long-term status, that needs to be addressed.
A familiar and ready-made option can be found in the CanPL. Cavalry’s Marco Carducci is a potential solution at the position for the Whitecaps. Vancouver was rumoured to have interest in bringing Carducci back to his former club before his cancer diagnosis during the off-season, scuppering a move to MLS ... but, frankly, Carducci is certainly as good, if not better, than Hasal.
The 25-year-old Carducci ticks a lot of boxes for the Whitecaps; familiarity with the club, good age and experience, a player who continues to improve, and an absolutely top-notch character on and off the field.
A Carducci move to MLS could follow a similar trajectory to that of Crepeau, who after getting valuable playing time at Ottawa Fury made his breakthrough in MLS as a 25-year-old in 2019.
... On Guelph United's 'Hollywood' story
League 1 Ontario’s Guelph United were eliminated from the Canadian Championship Tuesday night, losing 2-0 to Halifax Wanderers.
Although unsuccessful on the field on the night, Guelph provides a further blueprint towards league expansion. Attendance was very good Tuesday, better than some CanPL markets, and was played at a facility compatible with a professional level broadcast. Canadian cities with established University facilities and established community engagement should be the target for Canadian Premier League as the league continues to grow.
Potential ownership groups should be pursuing partnerships with deep-pocked University institutions to renovate, refurbish or invest in facilities that can be used by both the professional soccer club as well as varsity sports.
The fit to scale model works between CanPL ambition and the needs for University sport. Partnership between club and institution can alleviate investment concerns in building and maintaining suitable facilities, providing better facilities for the community. University grounds are crucially fit for broadcast. Television considerations are a must, and building that infrastructure at any new facility comes at a substantial cost. And with University cities comes an established sporting communities who support local and back their own.
In Ontario alone, cities like Guelph, Waterloo, London, and Kingston immediately fit the bill.
... On CPL talent, undervalued and ever-rising
Who is the most underappreciated player in the CanPL?
Halifax Wanderers midfielder Andre Rampersad gets my vote.
The central midfielder is as reliable as the come, playing almost every minute of every game for Steven Hart. Rampersad is a stabilizing force, providing predictable solid play each and every time out.
There’s nothing flashy about his play and that’s perhaps the reason why he flies under the radar. His solid game management and positional strength, physical stature and willingness to lead and do the dirty work makes him a suitable leader for a team that has got off to a very good start to the season despite losing star player Joao Morelli for the season.
... On the pressures of the 'next' De Rosario
York United’s Osaze De Rosario continues to catch the eye ... and scouts I talk to have started to more regularly monitor the player.
Are we in for DE ROSARIO 2.0 in #CanPL this season? 👀— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 26, 2022
Or is it still to early to heighten expectations around @YorkUtdFC's latest breakthrough young star? 💫
Catch the latest episode of OneSoccer Today 👇
▶️ https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/3tgh9A8Gti
There is plenty to like about De Rosario’s game beyond his last name; good size, good on the ball, a powerful shot, with a decent work-rate.
At 20, there’s still time for further development.
His father, Dwayne, was a bit of a late bloomer, getting his first chance in MLS at 23 – the rest, as they say, is history.
... on CanMNT's summer plans
Canada Soccer announced the Men’s National team will play Curacao in the Nations League June 9 at BC Place in Vancouver.
The June window is an important time in preparation for Qatar, and the decision to play in Vancouver presents logistical challenges in lining up opponents for a potential friendly.
It’s reasonable to assume Canada will play the June friendly in Vancouver as well. An announcement on opponent and details is expected soon.
Expect a new permanent General Secretary to be named by the Canadian Soccer Association by the end of the month.