A Cup Grows Up

Image courtesy Toronto FC

Image courtesy Toronto FC

In another time in a different timeline last night might be remembered as one of the greatest nights in Canadian club soccer history.

Admittedly there’s not a lot to compete with, at least recently, but the two semi-finals of the Amway Canadian Championship ( the Voyageurs Cup to those that care) between Montreal and Edmonton and then Vancouver and Toronto had everything.

High drama, passion, comebacks, plenty of goals (9 between the two games), heroes, villians, plenty of Canadian players in starring roles and finally a penalty shoot out to end the evening.

Unfortunately the conversation during and after both games centred on the officiating – in Montreal a last minute penalty awarded to the Impact tipped the balance in a game that had swung in favour of both teams at certain points. In Vancouver the all important first goal of the match from Toronto had hints of not just being a foul but being offside as well.

The cries of “the fix is in” especially in the Montreal – Edmonton game were long and loud as a few of the more vocal on social media were (are) convinced the Canadian Soccer Association wants nothing different than a Toronto – Montreal final year after year.

Despite the fact that the idea of the same teams competing in the final year in and out quickly becomes stale and actually works against the popularity of the competition we’ve reached that unfortunate point in the game where crying “it’s fixed!” carries way more plausibility than it should.

Instead of considering the possibility that a referee in a highly stressed situation may have missed something or been undone by the pressure of the moment people jump to the conclusion that a national federation is conspiring to arrange a final of a competition that still barely registers for anyone other than those directly involved.

The reality is mistakes were made. The errors though coming to light after being magnified a thousand fold through dozens of slow motion replays dissected by arm chair critics like a modern day Zapruder film.

In Montreal it was the endless “ball to hand – hand to ball” situation. We’ve seen them given as they say – equally we’ve seen them not given and in a moment of pressure in this case the ref gave it.

Edmonton coach Colin Miller also thought his team was robbed.

“(Two Edmonton players) saw one of our players with his hands behind his back. And the ball hit him here,” said Miller, pointing to his shoulder. “The referee then went to the wrong player to tell him it hit him.”

Miller was livid with referee Drew Fischer after the game, and confronted the official as he was leaving the pitch.

Impact president Joey Saputo then jumped onto the field and got into a screaming match with Miller embarrassing both themselves and their organizations.

It was an inglorious end to a tremendous game that had seen the Impact storm out to a 3-0 lead (4-2 on aggregate) only to see the Eddies grab two and take the edge on away goals before the decisive late penalty.

In Vancouver a wide open affair was decided on penalties after the Whitecaps were up 2-1 at the end of regulation and extra time tying the series at 3-3 on aggregate in more than 18,000 boisterous fans who were treated to a wide open end to end affair that had a little of everything including it’s own Zapruder moment.

Toronto opened the scoring in the fourth minute off an innocent-looking free kick. Michael Bradley floated a ball into the Vancouver 18-yard box from near the halfway line that the 17-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci failed to collect after coming together with Toronto’s Nick Hagglund.

The ball came off Hagglund or Carducci – I’ve watched half a dozen times and I’m still not completely sure – went off the crossbar where Doniel Henry waited to prod the ball it into the goal. Now depending on who that ball touched Henry was either offside or he wasn’t and depending on how much you think goalkeepers should be protected when going after high balls it was or it wasn’t a foul on Hagglund.

Again in an instant decisions were made by officials who in reality don’t face enough of these kinds of pressure decisions at this level. Not through any fault of their own – it’s just where the pro game and pro refereeing is at this point in it’s development in Canada. We need to make it better.

Fortunately by the time penalties rolled round in Vancouver the incident was mostly pushed down the long list of talking points in what was one of the most entertaining games we are likely to see on Canadian soil (or at least turf) this year.

Could things have been better last night from an officiating point of view? Certainly, but like players and coaches that is always the case in this game –  there are hundreds of errors both large and small in every game there is always room for improvement.

The challenge as observers is to accept and acknowledge this but also not to lose sight of the fact that our little cup competition is growing up and we were treated to two dramas last night that would not be out of place anywhere in the world.

We’ve reached that magic point where people care – enjoy it.


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