TORONTO — Like in previous editions of this rivalry, there were many talking points following the second leg of the Canadian Championship between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact on Tuesday night, which TFC won 2-1 at the death.
However, very few of those topics were about the match itself.
Most of the questions asked to players and coaches were about referee Dave Gantar, and the Impact were especially displeased with his performance.
Patrice Bernier was controversially sent off late in the second half, although there were some questionable decisions that affected both sides. Sebastian Giovinco could have won a penalty minutes before his stoppage-time winner while Impact defender Kyle Fisher went in hard on TFC’s Steven Beitashour and was booked in the end.
“I thought he did not have a good game,” said Impact head coach Mauro Biello. “There was fouls, hands on the shoulder, pulling down, he’s letting it play on. In the end, he’s got to be consistent in his calls. (Chris) Mavinga takes out Ballou (Tabla) on the side, it’s not a yellow card. Hernan (Bernardello) on (Michael) Bradley, because it’s Bradley, it’s a yellow card. You’re inconsistent, and that’s the bottom line.”
Bernier’s red card was the most curious event of the night. The Impact captain was in possession of the ball, but then it got away from him. He chased it down and tried to beat an onrushing Marco Delgado. Bernier appeared to catch his foot on Delgado’s ankle and the ball at the same time, but before he knew it, several players were surrounding Gantar, who told the Canadian veteran that he “had no choice” but to send him off.
“For the game to be decided like that again, by the refs, that are not at the level, it’s unacceptable to give a red card like that in a final,” said Biello. “It’s disappointing, because at the end of the day, if you don’t have the ability or the experience to make certain decisions like that, you should not be on the field. In the end, maybe they should take a look and bring in officials that are at the level to officiate games like this.”
TFC captain Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez and Mavinga were nose-to-nose with Gantar almost immediately after the challenge. Biello claims Toronto players “intimidated” the referee into brandishing a red card, which Bernier said could have been a factor.
“It’s an emotional game,” Bernier told Sportsnet. “But at the end of the day, if you have six guys come crowd you, make it look like it’s worse than what it is, referee feels like he has to take a decision and at that time, he told me he had no choice. And it’s funny, because (Delgado) gets up two seconds after. I come in and you listen to everyone who sees the replay and they say it’s not a foul, or at least it’s not deemed a red card.”
Bernier went on to say that it was not only the red card that was disappointing, but the repetitive officiating issues that constantly pop up in MLS.
“Some days, certain things get repeated too often in this league,” Bernier continued. “Usually I’m very nice with the referees. [Dave] knows that, we talk a lot on the field. This is the second time. Two games, two times in, certain times, you’ve got to be able to digest a high-level game.”
Despite everything that transpired, TFC still lifted its sixth Voyageurs Cup. Bernier said the team is “not sour losers” and will completely shift its focus to MLS.
The Impact are currently joint-bottom in the Eastern Conference with D.C. United on 18 points. However, Montreal has two games in hand over most of the other clubs in the East and can mount another late push to qualify for the MLS playoffs again.
One positive takeaway was the performance of 18-year-old Tabla. The Canadian youth international scored the Impact’s only goal with a lovely curled finish from distance. Tabla also continually ran at TFC’s defence to spark his team’s attack.
“Ballou is a great young talent,” said Bernier. “Today, he showed what he can do. The goal, he scores out of nothing. He’s unpredictable, he’s 18. He’s able to do things that, at 18, most of us were cold-minded to be able to do that. His potential is great. He’s developed well. We just have to keep pushing him and letting him progress and become the talent he can be and the player that can carry this team in the future.”
The youngster has two goals in 11 appearances from the wing. Tabla has drifted in and out of games, but many young players experience dips in form, especially wingers. The ability and confidence are clearly there. It’s just about gaining consistency, which should be attainable if the homegrown star keeps racking up minutes.