SN: What did you think of the red card to Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston in last week’s 4-1 road loss to Atlanta United FC?
RICCIO: I didn’t agree with it at all. Referee Ismail Elfath went to the VAR (video assistant referee) and spent about five minutes looking at the replay, and somehow he determined that a red card was warranted for the infraction. The point of VAR is to overturn decisions that were clearly and obviously wrong. I have long been a proponent of VAR in soccer, but this was not a situation where the call made on the field should have been overturned. I had hoped the use of VAR would aid referees in spotting embellishment, but in this case Elfath bought what Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was selling and doomed the Whitecaps to a heavy handed double punishment (a penalty shot and a red card). In my opinion, the official has to use better judgement in how he manages the match.
How much will the Whitecaps miss Waston as he serves his suspension?
It’d be difficult to argue that Waston isn’t the Whitecaps’ most important player right now. This team had a ton of turnover in the off-season and the loss of Tim Parker to the New York Red Bulls has split up one of MLS’ best centre-back duos from the 2017 season. Without Waston, coach Carl Robinson will be forced to go with an unfamiliar backline. Canadian international Doneil Henry trained in full this week and he could make his debut on Saturday at home. Robinson will go with some combination of Henry, Jose Aja and Aaron Maund at the back. That unfamiliarity between the group could be the root of problems on Saturday against the LA Galaxy.
What lessons, if any, should the Whitecaps take from the loss in Atlanta?
It is hard to take much away from a match where the Whitecaps were handed a red card and penalty in the opening minutes, but there was one thing that stuck out to me. Jordon Mutch made his first start since coming over on loan from Premier League side Crystal Palace, and more than held his own. His rust showed a bit, but his assist on Erik Hurtado’s goal was something to behold. The Whitecaps like to play defensive soccer on the road and if Mutch can provide those types of passes regularly then he will make Vancouver fans very happy this season.
Which Whitecaps newcomer has impressed you the most through the first three games of the MLS season?
Kei Kamara didn’t play against Atlanta due to a groin injury, but he has undoubtedly been the star of the season so far. He has goals in his first two starts, but more importantly, he has been a perfect fit for the Whitecaps’ system. Fredy Montero had a solid campaign for Vancouver in 2017, but Kamara is the type of No. 9 this team really needs to find success in-season and in the playoffs. His hold-up play and ability to connect with those around him has been a major factor in Vancouver’s two wins. It’s hard to imagine how he could have had a better start to his Whitecaps career. I also believe his confident and charismatic persona is beneficial to the squad, and some of the younger players within the team.
Is there any one-on-one match-up in this Saturday’s game between Vancouver and the LA Galaxy that intrigues you?
As long as Alphonso Davies is starting on a regular basis, the Whitecaps are going to utilize his pace and dribbling ability to create opportunities down the left flank. It happened in the season-opening win over Montreal, but an injury to Marcel de Jong forced the young Canadian into a more defensive role against Houston and Atlanta. Davies will give Galaxy right fullback Daniel Steres all he can handle on Saturday night at BC Place, with de Jong back at left fullback. Carl Robinson will ask Davies to deliver crosses into the box and also cut in centrally when the opportunities present themselves. The Galaxy are dealing with plenty of injuries, so I expect the Whitecaps to be on the front foot, and I’ll be looking for Davies to be the key to Vancouver finding goals on Saturday.