Dejan Joveljić handball? LA Galaxy bemoan "obvious" call

LA Galaxy Dejan Joveljic

LA Galaxy striker Dejan Joveljić, in the 77th minute of Saturday night’s home match vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, thought he had a game-winning goal.

Raheem Edwards’ deflected cross fell to the Serbian international eight yards out, and a confident finish past Vancouver goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka ensued.

But Joveljić's trademark finger-guns celebration would be for naught. Head referee Victor Rivas ruled Joveljić was guilty of a handball on his settling touch, and the decision didn’t go to Video Review for a closer check.

Galaxy head coach and sporting director Greg Vanney, simply, was displeased with what he called an "obvious" decision.

"Ultimately, the game comes down to one play. It really does. And the play was a non-handball," Vanney said following the 1-1 draw at Dignity Health Sports Park.

"I just don’t understand for the life of me how the referee, who is 25 yards behind the play, and directly behind the attacker, sees handball. Because even when you watch it on replay, it’s not a handball. And you have all the angles in the world, potentially, in Video Review. Let them make the call if it’s a handball. You’re guessing from 25 yards behind."

The play in question was LA’s second disallowed goal of their 2023 home opener, the first occurring just before the half-hour mark when Joveljić was ruled offside in the buildup before crossing low on Riqui Puig’s finish from 12 yards out.

With those two setbacks, the Galaxy had to settle for an equalizer in first-half stoppage time from right back Kelvin Leerdam – which canceled out Tristan Blackmon’s 14th-minute header for the visiting Whitecaps.

Vanney, though, remained adamant that his group should’ve taken three points from this Western Conference encounter.

"I watched it back. To me, it doesn’t look like a handball at all," Vanney stressed about Joveljić's near-breakthrough. "But once he makes the call, it changes everything. So, it’s a big guess by [the referee] and it impacts the game. We could have played better. We had some good moments. But football games come down to plays, they come down to moments. And that was a big moment in the game."

Big picture

Controversial play aside, the reality is LA remain winless early into their new season with a 0W-1L-2D record. After making the Western Conference Semifinals in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, more is expected from the five-time champions.

All the while, two Designated Players – striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and winger Douglas Costa – remained sidelined by injuries and new signings are getting integrated. Brazilian right back Lucas Calegari was an unused substitute after the on-loan Fluminense player's paperwork got approved, and LA are reportedly finalizing a deal for Argentine left back Julián Aude from Lanus. Both Calegari and Aude are U22 Initiative pieces.

Vanney is hopeful LA’s first win of 2023 isn’t far off, possibly as soon as next Saturday’s marquee trip to face the Portland Timbers (4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX).

"We’re going through our phase of a couple of big injuries, along with some guys that we’re still trying to get in the doors and get integrated into the group," Vanney said. "So, the guys that are here, it’s a process of keep getting better every game and try to get points along the way. Today was one of those opportunities, and next week will be another."