Punchline fails to get laugh - The Province

Fuming Caps lose game and goalie over phantom blow

Marc Weber

The punch was phantom, say the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it has them facing very real adversity.

Vancouver trails the Montreal Impact 1-0 heading into today's decisive second leg of the USL-1 semifinal at Swangard Stadium and they will likely be without goalkeeper Jay Nolly, who was shown a straight red card in Friday's opener in front of 12,000 fans at Saputo Stadium.

Referee Steve De Piero ejected Nolly in the 52nd minute for throwing a punch at Impact midfielder Antonio Ribeiro. The multi-player skirmish erupted when Ribeiro crashed into Nolly after the Whitecaps 'keeper bobbled a bouncing ball.

Ribeiro, who received a yellow card for his role, scored the winner in minute 61, beating backup Tyler Baldock from close range.

"You fight all year to get to the playoffs, you are in the semifinal and you have your game destroyed by the referee," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, whose side was outshot 14-8.

"This is not normal.

"The linesman said that [Nolly] punched [Ribeiro] and that was definitely not the case. The referee wrote that in the report, but I didn't accept that ... then he changed it to say 'attempted to punch,' but [Nolly] never did that either." The Whitecaps have appealed the red card, but it is not a league decision -- it comes down to De Piero overturning his ruling. There is video evidence of the incident, and it appears to show Nolly forcefully slapping away Ribeiro's hand that was in his face. Ribeiro told the Montreal Gazette that Nolly grabbed him by the throat.

According to Nolly, it was all overblown.

"I pounced on the ball and [Ribeiro] just clobbered me," said Nolly. "He was grabbing other people so I went up and grabbed him. He stuck his hand in my face and I swatted it away, and pretty much figured it was over.

"I think [the officials] pretty much blew the game. I didn't throw a punch. It was just a scrum. "Obviously, I shouldn't have put myself in that situation, and I felt terrible for the team. I don't ever want to put them in a spot like that." "That spot" was being down to 10 men for 40 minutes with a goalkeeper who's making his professional debut. And "that spot" being a do-or-die game for a berth into the championship final without the support of one of the league's top shot stoppers.

Whitecaps defender Jeff Clarke said the referee "ruined the game," but he played up the positives, calling Friday a big moral victory and saying that his side wouldn't make excuses.

"To play a top team like that and keep them to one goal, down a man for 40 minutes, it's a huge victory," he said. "We left the field very upbeat, and now all we have to do is win at home.

"If we can't do that, we don't deserve to go to the final." mweber@theprovince.com
© The Vancouver Province 2008