VANCOUVER â€” With his team starting to show attacking promise in a scoreless stalemate, Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Brek Shea cut the feet out from under Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund to earn a deserved yellow card over the weekend.
Feeling aggrieved about a foul he thought should have been called seconds earlier, Shea swore at referee Ismail Elfath before turning away.
The official immediately brandished an additional caution and a subsequent red card in the 70th minute of a match that would see Toronto score twice after Vancouver was reduced to 10 men in a 2-0 final.
“As an athlete you get competitive and you want to win,” Shea said after Wednesday’s training session. “Sometimes it gets the best of you. To let the team and my teammates down like that, it’s disappointing for me.”
Acquired in a trade with Orlando City SC late last month, Shea’s dismissal was just the latest example of discipline biting the Whitecaps, who saw eight players either sent off or retroactively suspended a year ago, three more than the next closest team in Major League Soccer.
Three games into this season, the number is already at two for winless Vancouver (0-2-1) after goalkeeper David Ousted was also red carded in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.
Add to that Cristian Techera’s sending off in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals and it’s just more evidence of a troubling trend.
“There is a lot. There’s too many for my liking,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson, whose team has seen 10 red cards over its last 36 MLS matches. “We need to be better, we need to be cleaner, we need to be smarter. If the referees are clamping down on foul and abusive language, which I’m fine with, I need to make sure they don’t use foul and abusive language.
“That’s hard in professional sports, unfortunately.”
MLS told clubs before the season that dissent towards referees would be a focus, but Ousted, whose red against San Jose was for a tackle outside of the penalty area, said it would have been better if the official had taken everything into account in the Shea situation, including the Canadian rivalry.
“There should never be dissent against the referee, but they also have to recognize there’s a lot of emotions,” said Ousted. “There are guys who are fighting for spots, who are fighting for their livelihoods.”
Vancouver defender Jordan Harvey, whose team has not allowed a goal in MLS this season when at full strength, said he’s been in a lot of league meetings over his career where different points of emphasis for referees has been discussed.
“If we were to actually record some of the stuff that is said on the field, both sides, even during that game in particular, I don’t think we’d be finishing with enough players,” said Harvey. “We’re going to have to learn from it because obviously we’ve gotten to many (red cards) this season already.”
Vancouver, which next plays April 1 at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy, also felt hard done by because it appeared Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley got away with yelling at the official late in Saturday’s match after he was cautioned, leeway that wasn’t afforded to Shea.
“You’re never going to win as a referee,” said Robinson. “If the tone is set that by swearing at a referee and you get sent off … no problem.
“I’ll make sure my players don’t swear, but you’ve got to do that for every player, every week. I hope that’s the case now.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press