Team from lower league hands Toronto its first home defeat this season on controversial call
Before yesterday's Canadian Championship game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC coach John Carver told his players about the time he led Luton Town into an FA Cup match against Premiership powerhouse Liverpool.
He remembers Liverpool with their big-name, big-money players approached that match with arrogance, as if lowly Luton owed them a win. He also remembers that game ending in a draw, and warned his heavily favoured team not to let the same thing happen to them against Vancouver.
And then they let it happen.
A 36th-minute penalty kick by Vancouver's Martin Nash gave the Whitecaps a lead they wouldn't relinquish and handed TFC their first home loss this season.
The game, Vancouver's first win in Canadian Championship play, turned on a pair of controversial calls. The three-team tournament that also includes Montreal Impact serves as a qualifier for the CONCACAF Champions League later this year.
On a corner kick the referee whistled Jim Brennan for grabbing Vancouver's Jeff Clarke, setting up Nash's penalty kick. And 10 minutes from the end of regulation, Jeff Cunningham chased down a pass and poked it past goalkeeper Jay Nolly. But the referee's assistant had him flagged offside.
Still, Carver refused to blame the officiating for the loss. Instead, he blames himself for fielding a starting lineup that was outhustled by a Whitecaps squad that had just lost two of its top players – Adrian Cann and Chris Pozniak – to European clubs.
"That team that went out there in the first half didn't perform to the level that I want," he said. "They couldn't pass the ball. There was no communication. There was nothing. It was lifeless."
The players, however, were happy to make the officials the scapegoat.
Brennan says Clark hit the ground a little too easily after some routine goalmouth jostling, and thinks the referee let the Whitecaps defender dupe him.
Cunningham, meanwhile, is all too familiar with offside calls. He has 18 so far this season, good for eighth in Major League Soccer. But he says his goal – and the shirtless celebration he says he's been planning for weeks – were legit.
"Bad officiating. It was bad the whole game," he said. "I was disappointed when I turned around (and saw the flag). It was a bit embarrassing. ... But the officiating decided the game today."
But everyone agrees that Toronto, who entered last week ranked third overall in the MLS, should have scored more than once against a shorthanded team from a lower league – the United Soccer Leagues.
And they tried. After being outshot 8-5 in the first half, TFC managed 15 second-half shots against just eight for the Whitecaps.
"It's not unlucky," said Cunningham. "We gotta put them chances away."
Carver said it's no coincidence that most of TFC's scoring chances came after he inserted Cunningham, Jarrod Smith and Julius James. He said two straight losses have him considering a new starting lineup.
"It's a no-brainer, isn't it," he said. "Unless we get some new additions."
He may have been talking about former Norwich City striker Darren Huckerby and former Manchester City player Paul Dickov who were both at the game.