VANCOUVER— José Guillermo Ortiz had the look of a wounded bird as he lay on the pitch.
The D.C. United forward had just blown past Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston, who reached out his hand to try and thwart him. Ortiz flopped down onto the turf at BC Place, and referee Sorin Stoica promptly awarded a penalty kick to the visiting team.
Trouble was, Waston hadn’t hauled Ortiz down. The replay, which drew a round of boos from the crowd, clearly showed the 24-year-old striker—who only two days earlier had been issued a fine by Major League Soccer’s Disciplinary Committee for simulation/embellishment in D.C.’s last match—tumbling to the ground unassisted.
That hardly mattered, though. Lamar Neagle scored on the penalty kick, sending the ball into the top left corner for the lone goal of the match, and D.C.’s first victory since April 30.
“It’s an awful call,” said Vancouver coach Carl Robinson, “and it’s had a major impact on the game.”
Saturday’s contest was a showcase of missed chances and poor officiating. The Whitecaps, now 5-6-1, were responsible for the former, as the team endured a series of frustrations in the first half while dominating possession, with Cristian Techera and Waston both hitting the crossbar, and United goalkeeper Bill Hamid denying Tim Parker and Fredy Montero.
Hamid, who leads the league in saves, was excellent on the afternoon.
“Bill played great, and when you have a goalkeeper with that type of presence, sometimes the post is your friend as well,” said United coach Ben Olsen, who began his press conference by exclaiming: “What drama.”
The drama of the match focused largely on the referee, who made another strange call late in the game. Vancouver’s Brek Shea beat Hamid to a free kick, sending a header toward the goal but hitting the crossbar. In the aftermath, Shea collided with the goalkeeper, requiring medical attention for a span of minutes after which Stoica belatedly pointed to the spot, indicated a penalty kick awarded to Vancouver.
Techera took the kick but hit the post—the theme of the night for the Whitecaps.
“The post was on our side today,” said Olsen, whose team had been sitting at the bottom of the East but moved up one spot past Montreal with the win. Olsen wouldn’t comment on either penalty call, though he did say he felt that if the first call was “a little dubious,” it was likely evened out by the second call.
“Usually I don’t say or criticize anything that officials do because they have a hard enough job, but this official seems to cost us a lot,” Robinson said. “So it’s unfortunate.”
Robinson was referring to previous incidents in which Stoica has played a role. In a match versus the New York Red Bulls on Sept. 3, the referee made a series of head-scratching calls before ejecting Robinson for verbal dissent.
In that game, and again on Saturday, chants of “Ref, you suck!” poured down from the crowd.
Robinson contrasted the officiating in his team’s most recent loss with that of the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea the same day—a game in which he felt a top-quality official had made difficult but correct decisions.
“Sometimes the soccer gods don’t look out for you, and today was that day,” he said before throwing a bit more shade Stoica’s way: “When you miss a number of chances and calls are made correctly, you draw the game nil-nil.”
Stoica’s first penalty call may have altered the game dramatically, and the questionable calls did no favours for a league trying to establish itself as world class, but several Whitecaps noted that the team itself had to take ownership for the loss.
Whitecaps right fullback Sheanon Williams called it “a crazy game” and said he felt a penalty kick should not have been awarded to D.C., but added, “We should have been up 3–0 at that point and we have to do better in front of goal. We have to put teams away when we have the chance and then we don’t run into things like that.”
Vancouver ’keeper David Ousted, who made a brilliant save to deny Luciano Acosta in the first half but was otherwise mostly untested, smiled when asked for his thoughts on the penalty kick. “I don’t want to comment too much, or too little,” he said.
Bad call or not, the Whitecaps had failed to make the most of their opportunities.
“Honestly, we created the chances we needed today,” he said. “We had them but just didn’t take them. And when you don’t take them, you let teams in the game. And D.C. did well to hang on and got their goal off a penalty. And at the end of the day, if you don’t take your chances, it’s going to be hard to win games.”