MLS takeaways: Waston, Whitecaps fall victim to harsh call

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston. (CP Photo)

• Vancouver Whitecaps 1 (Hurtado 85’), Atlanta United FC 4 (Martinez 15’, 60’ and 88’, Maund – own goal 58’)


Vancouver’s perfect start to the season came to an end on Saturday as it suffered a heavy defeat in Atlanta after defender Kendall Waston was controversially sent off early in first half.


1. Harsh call on Waston
The turning point came when Kendall Waston was shown a red card for elbowing Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in the 13th minute. There was no initial call on the play, but then referee Ismail Elfath consulted the replay after the VAR official alerted him. Following more than four minutes of review, Elfath brandished the red card and awarded a penalty, which Josef Martinez duly dispatched.

However, from this observer’s point of view, it was a harsh call, as Waston’s arm was in a natural position, his back was to Gonzalez Pirez, and there didn’t appear to be any intent to elbow him. In fact, it looked like Gonzalez Pirez and Waston were both tussling with each other and simply jockeying for position as the cross came into the box, and a foul could just have easily been called on Gonzalez Pirez. Also, the fact it took nearly five minutes to decide Waston committed a foul worthy of a red card suggests that it wasn’t “clear and obvious,” as mandated by the VAR stipulations.

2. Davies, Mutch bright spots for Whitecaps
Despite the 4-1 loss, there were a few positives for the Whitecaps. Once again, Canadian Alphonso Davies was a dangerous threat down the left side with his speed, deft ball control and technical skill. Atlanta right fullback Franco Escobar struggled to contain the talented teenager, who burned him for pace and nearly opened the scoring in the first few minutes of the match.

Also, Jordon Mutch put in a solid shift in his first start for the Whitecaps since joining the club earlier this month on loan from Crystal Palace. The Englishman provided a steady and physical presence on the left side of midfield, and he played a wonderfully weighted ball over the top of Atlanta’s defence for Erik Hurtado, who collected it in full stride and then scored with a composed finish.

3. Hurtado for Blondell a wise swap
With star forward Kei Kamara at home nursing a groin injury, coach Carl Robinson gave a first MLS start to Anthony Blondell. The Venezuelan never influenced the game, in large part because he was too isolated up front after Waston was given his marching orders. Robinson subbed off Blondell and replaced him with Erik Hurtado in the 55th minute. Hurtado immediately provided the Whitecaps with a dangerous outlet up front, while giving the Atlanta defence something to worry about with his speed. He also latched onto Mutch’s raking pass and slotted it past Atlanta ‘keeper Brad Guzan with five minutes left in the match. The Whitecaps looked far more likely to score when Hurtado came on, raising the question: Why didn’t Robinson replace Blondell sooner?


13’ RED CARD! Vancouver Whitecaps 0, Atlanta United FC 0: Referee Ismail Elfath’s decision (after consulting with VAR) to send off Kendall Waston not only preceded Josef Martinez’s opening goal from the penalty spot. It also changed the complexion of the game, forcing the visiting Whitecaps to play a man down for the bulk of the match against one of the best home sides in MLS.


What can the Whitecaps take away from this match?
Not much. It would have been interesting to see how things would’ve played out had it remained 11-v-11. As it was, the complexion of the game changed after Waston was sent off. Atlanta dominated the remainder of the game with the man advantage, with Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron running rampant in attack. The bigger question is who will replace Waston in the heart of the defence, as he will miss Vancouver’s next two games due to international duty with Costa Rica and suspension. With Doneil Henry still dealing with an injury, Robinson is short on centre-back options, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments he makes.


It’s difficult to imagine that Kendall Waston’s reputation didn’t play some part in Ismail Elfath’s decision to brandish a red card. Waston has established himself as one of the best defenders in MLS since joining Vancouver in 2014, noted for his solid positioning and expert reading of the game. But Saturday’s red card was the fourth of his MLS career, and he’s collected 15 yellow cards over the past two seasons. Walking the fine line between physical and ill-discipline is a dangerous game at times, and it no doubt hurt him against Atlanta.


Since the start of last season, Atlanta has scored multiple goals in 14 home games, more than any other team in MLS.


Josef Martinez, Atlanta United FC: Who else would it be? The wily Venezuelan opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and had two other scoring chances in the first half. He completed his hat trick in the final 45 minutes with a composed finish past Whitecaps goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic on a break, and a wonderful header off a cross played to the far post by Andrew Carleton.

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