VANCOUVER, B.C. -- It was the call that changed the game.
With the Vancouver Whitecaps leading 1-0 over the Colorado Rapids Saturday at BC Place, Matias Laba went down in the 77th minute after a challenge from Nick LaBrocca. On the ground thinking he'd been fouled, Laba reached out and grabbed the ball. But referee Ioannis Stavridis had not blown his whistle on the play, meaning Laba had handled the ball illegally in the center of the park.
Out came a yellow card from Stavridis' pocket, and Laba was given his marching orders for picking up his second caution of the match. The Rapids went on to score two quick goals through José Mari within five minutes of the Argentine's dismissal and handed Vancouver their first loss of 2014.
- MLS Match Recap: Vancouver Whitecaps 1, Colorado Rapids 2
“It's obviously a foul,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson told reporters following the match, suggesting Stavridis missed the initial call on the play. “He sent him off for a decision that I think he's got wrong, in my opinion, and ultimately it's cost the game.”
When asked if Laba should have avoided handling the ball despite the perceived foul, Robinson conceded his player should have kept his hands to himself but stuck to his assertion that the referee made the wrong decision.
“You could argue that that is a yellow card,” Robinson said of Laba touching the ball. “But if you're going on every decision that's made … if he misses the decision – the first one – you can't penalize the guy on the second one, and that's my gripe on it. You shouldn't handle the ball, you're right. If it's a yellow card, it's a yellow card.”
Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit also pointed to the red card as the game's vital moment and questioned Stavridis' decision.
“We all feel like we've been punched in the gut a little bit there,” DeMerit said. “Unfortunately that happens in our sport; some things you can't control. I thought the things we could control [were] enough to win. Unfortunately that didn't happen tonight, and everyone gets assessed on their performances, including the referee. So hopefully people look at that and assess it in the right way.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.