Was it fair for an all-Canadian officiating team led by referee Silviu Petrescu to oversee Thursday’s Knockout Round match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the LA Galaxy?
Did that put undue pressure on Petrescu to award the decisive penalty to Landon Donovan after minimal contact from Martín Bonjour?
Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie didn’t say it outright, but it was clear in a postgame interview he felt the circumstances were far from ideal.
“The margins between winning and losing are so, so small,” Rennie told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1040 following the game. “Tonight, none of the 50-50s went our way and, for us to come to LA and win in the playoffs, those 50-50s need to go our way.”
With 20 minutes left to play, perhaps the biggest 50-50 of them all resulted in Petrescu awarding the game-winning penalty kick, as Donovan hit the deck.
“The game turned on a very, very controversial penalty decision, which I’m very disappointed about,” Rennie said. “Ultimately, it was the major turning point in the game.”
Just as big a talking point was a non-call just before half-time, as Andy O’Brien made contact with Donovan in the box. The Galaxy clearly thought it was a penalty that went uncalled, and the high-priced trio of Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Donovan berated Petrescu going into the break.
“They campaigned all the way up the tunnel, all the way to the referees’ locker room, all the way to the door,” Rennie said. “That does affect the referee, I think. I’m not going to say he was overly influenced or anything like that, but I think that amount of pressure can make it hard for anybody.”
Outside the Vancouver locker room after the game, one reporter brought up a hard tackle by Beckham on Robson that wasn’t called, an offside decision that went the way of the Galaxy and a studs up challenge on John Thorrington that went unpenalized. Vancouver’s coach was then asked if he thought those calls seemed to favor the home side.
Rennie opted to bite his tongue rather than lash out.
“Everybody knows why [we didn’t get any calls],” he said. “I’m not going to answer that.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.