It had to be David Gantar, didn’t it?
The last time the Edmonton native officiated one of Toronto FC’s games was last September when he waived off a perfectly valid goal by Gilberto for a phantom foul inside the 18-yard box. Had the Brazilian’s injury-time strike stood, the Reds would have walked away with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire. Instead, TFC settled for a draw.
Gantar was at it again on Saturday, issuing a controversial red card to Toronto left back Justin Morrow in the final moments of the first half. Morrow brought down Ethan Finlay on the edge of the box, but replays showed the TFC defender made a perfectly legal tackle in poking the ball away from the Columbus Crew midfielder. Not only was it not a foul, it didn’t even deserve a caution, never mind a red card.
Gantar, though, blew the whistle and after consulting with his linesman—who didn’t raise his flag on the play—brandished a red card, as Morrow was adjudged to have illegally prevented a clear scoring chance.
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Forced to a play a man down on the road, TFC wilted under the pressure and were over-run by their hosts, conceding goals to Justin Meram and Kei Kamara four minutes apart as the Crew went on to win 2-0
Coach Greg Vanney, who was on the sidelines last September in Chicago when Gantar’s gaffe cost TFC a win, was measured but firm when he was asked if Morrow deserved to see Red.
“My thought is that it’s not a red card. I haven’t watched a replay; from my vantage point, I just talked to trusted people who have watched it, and from what I saw it wasn’t a red card and nothing that I’ve heard otherwise will change my mind,” Vanney said in a post-match conference call.
“If anybody has a different opinion I’m open to listening to them, but I just haven’t heard it yet.”
He also revealed that the club will decide over the next 24 hours whether to appeal Gantar’s controversial decision to MLS in hopes that the league rescinds the red card. Vanney said that if it’s how he remembered the play, the appeal would be under strong consideration from the league.
If MLS does rescind the red card, Morrow would be allowed to play in TFC’s next game, away to Real Salt Lake on March 29. If not, Morrow will be suspended and Toronto will have to make do without one of the best left backs in MLS against the Western Conference heavyweights.
Saturday’s game was an even and open-ended contest prior to the red card, with TFC looking dangerous on the attack, and Sebastian Giovinco causing Columbus plenty of problems as the front-man in Vanney’s compact 4-3-3 formation. The Italian’s quick movement allowed him to get into a number of scoring positions, and he even tried an audacious lob from the halfway line early on in the match.
“I think we were controlling things pretty well. … We were able to get Sebastian in transition behind their (defensive) line where he had some good looks on goal,” Vanney said.
Morrow’s expulsion changed the complexion of the game, forcing TFC into a more defensive posture. With Morrow gone, Vanney inserted Canadian Ashtone Morgan at left back, taking off Jonathan Osorio. But Vanney also had to make another change at the start of the second half—Steven Caldwell complained of calf and Achilles tightness and had to be replaced by Nick Hagglund.
“With the red card right before half, the halftime discussion changes completely because now you’re talking about playing a man down versus making adjustments that I had planned for 11-v-11,” Vanney said.
Vanney didn’t lay the entire blame for the loss at the feet of Gantar, and admitted there are still some things his side needs to work on.
“We gave away a couple, guys got free from us in the box,” Vanney admitted. “We knew we were going to be defending a fair amount of crosses. We needed to be very spot on about our marks and about covering certain spaces when those crosses were made.”
He later added: “A game like today doesn’t define a team. We’ll look and recognize things that we need to continue to build on with our group.”