VANCOUVER—Brek Shea stood on the pitch, shooting daggers at referee Ismail Elfath.
The Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder had just forced Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund to the ground, drawing a yellow card in the 70th minute of Saturday’s contest at BC Place. But it was what Shea did next that proved costly for his team.
The ponytailed Texan, evidently unhappy with Elfath’s decision, unleashed a barrage of words unfit for print. He promptly earned a second yellow for dissent, and for their second consecutive Major League Soccer match, the Whitecaps went down to 10 men. Vancouver went on to lose 2–0 to TFC, falling to 0-2-1 on their season.
While Shea wasn’t made available to the media following the loss, you’d hardly need to be an expert lip reader to determine which words he directed at the referee.
“What he actually told me he said—and I genuinely 100 per cent believe my player—goes on every single minute of the game,” said Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, who noted that it was still unclear to him exactly why Shea had been served the second yellow.
While Robinson wouldn’t condone a lack of discipline, he did take issue with what he considered to be an inconsistent handling of the players’ behaviour.
“I used to say it every single game, 10 times,” Robinson said, adding: “If you do that and you send him off, no problem, we’ll respectfully take it—but you’ve got to do it for every player. That didn’t happen.”
Both teams looked evenly matched in the scoreless first half, which saw potential penalties for each team go uncalled.
In the 26th minute, Justin Morrow was attempting to control a ball delivered over the top before a challenge from Kendall Waston forced it out of play. Morrow looked to the referee expecting a penalty, but the foul was immediately waved off by Elfath. Seven minutes later, in the opposite penalty area, Eriq Zavaleta extended his leg towards the ball as Nicolás Mezquida flew by, taking Mezquida down. The potential penalty was again waved away.
The Whitecaps pressed forward in the second half, but things fell apart for the home side after Shea’s expulsion, which Robinson described as a “turning point” in the game.
“I don’t think it was a good red card for him,” said Waston, who insisted that his team doesn’t have a discipline problem.
The Whitecaps’ central defender didn’t agree with Shea being sent off—“We see other players complain even more, with a lot of bad words, and they don’t get suspended,” he said—but said he felt the more pressing issue was how the team was dealing with a player being red-carded.
“Everything at this moment is against us,” he said of having to face the game down a man. “So we have to see what we can do to change it up.”
Toronto opened the scoring in the 76th minute after Michael Bradley sent the ball forward to Raheem Edwards. Waston was able to clear Edwards’s first attempt into the box, but only as far as Edwards himself, who then delivered the ball to Jozy Altidore’s head. Altidore flicked the ball forward, and Víctor Vázquez delivered the finish, nodding the ball past a diving Spencer Richey. The Whitecaps goalkeeper shielded his eyes moments before the goal, seemingly struggling to follow the ball as it passed into the sun on the cross from Edwards to Altidore.
TFC sealed the game in the 80th minute with a clinical finish from Altidore.
With Vancouver’s No. 1 goalkeeper, David Ousted, serving a one-game suspension after a red card in Vancouver’s loss to San Jose last week, Richey made his MLS debut on Saturday. The 24-year-old said the feeling was bittersweet—he was happy to have the experience but, naturally, also disappointed that his team came away with nothing.
“I thought for those 10, 15 minutes prior to the sending off, that we were really pushing,” Richey said. “It looked like we had a goal or two in us.”
Richey’s first test came in the 66th minute, when Morrow put a shot on net from the edge of the box, but the goalkeeper was able to knock it out of play with his left arm.
“The games when you’re getting lots of strikes on net are actually the easiest ones,” he said when asked whether his task had been a little bit easier with Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco missing the game due to injury.
“Giovinco or not, I don’t think it would have been a massive difference,” he added.
The all-Canadian affair was a heated one, with a good deal of pushing and shoving and yelling. Waston attributed the rivalry’s intensity to what happened in last year’s Amway Canadian Championship.
The last time these two teams met, in the championship final at BC Place on June 29, 2016, Vancouver was left heartbroken. The home side looked set to take the trophy, but Will Johnson scored in the fifth minute of added time to secure the Voyageurs Cup for Toronto.
Vancouver’s latest loss should only sharpen the rivalry’s intensity.
The more pressing issue now, though, is how the Whitecaps will deal with a disappointing start to their MLS season.
“We know we need to be better individually and collectively, but up until the two goals, the first goal from Toronto, we were quite confident in the game,” Robinson said. “But obviously the first goal changes everything.”
Richey, for his part, seemed to acknowledge that the Whitecaps would need better focus—he didn’t go so far as to call it discipline—to have a shot at picking up their first win this season.
“We’ve got to find ways to not put ourselves in jeopardy of a decision potentially being made to change the number of guys on the pitch,” he said. “I think that’s first and foremost. Beyond that, I think we just need to keep working.”