Whitecaps Stand Tall in Atlanta but Glad They’re Not Going Back

The Spanish author Luis Magrinyà once wrote that “Behind literature there is only literature”.

And I think that what he was trying to convey was the notion that a work of art can be considered to exist within (and to have been created by) a very specific universe.

Books beget books beget books.

And if we search for insights or influences that go beyond the limits of the fictional written word then we are riding on a train for which disappointment is the only destination.

I don’t know if Magrinyà is right or wrong about this (and I’m not even sure I understand what the hell he’s trying to say anyway) but if he were one of the worldwide audience watching the Atlanta United versus Vancouver Whitecaps game on Saturday evening he would undoubtedly have turned to his companion and exclaimed “You see! There is nothing we can learn from this other than what it is! This game tells us nothing about anything except the game itself!”

Words that were no doubt echoed around the Province of British Columbia as fans of the Whitecaps watched (one of) their major officiating antagonists, Ismael Elfath, decide that at least four and half minutes of prevarication over a video was enough to decide that Kendal Waston committed a “clear and obvious” foul and thus merited a red card in addition to the penalty kick that was awarded.

Let’s not get into the contentious VAR discussion again except to say that I was very definitely right about the whole thing.

I think that we can at least agree on that!

But what if we were to put aside the musings of Magrinyà and try to figure out if we could take something of value from Vancouver’s 4-1 defeat?

Well, we could say that the team showed a degree of spirit that will probably bode well in the coming season. And while there’s usually nothing more enervating than listening to a coach praise the “character” of his team. In this particular case Carl Robinson would at least have some merit on his side.

Alphonso Davies was once again the Whitecaps best player.

He started as a wing-back beside a back three but slotted in as left back once the red card was issued.

It feels like a huge waste of his talent to play Davies as a pure defender but if Robinson ever does fully settle on the three at the back system then Davies would be the best wing back in the league.

Elsewhere Jordan Mutch and Felipe both offered little other than the occasional bullet of a long forward pass that brought to mind the glory days of Pedro Morales.

And while it’s hard, at this stage, to see the value in starting both of them in the same game the fact they possess that weapon in their locker makes the thought of figuring out a way to make that combination work an interesting prospect.

It’s tough to say much of value about anybody else given the early timing of the sending off.

Blondell and Mezquida were invisible and the ultimate central defensive pairing of Maund and Aja were constantly sliced in two by the slick passing of Atlanta.

That may have happened no matter what the numbers on the field were so all we can really do is shrug and put this one down to the vagaries of a referee who was keener to make the big decision than the right decision.

And can we please promise to never speak of Brek Shea’s decision to not shoot from the edge of the six yard box when the score was at 3-1?

We interrupt this blog for three bonus thoughts from the day

The early red card not only ruined the game it also meant we were unable to see the three at the back experiment in any meaningful way which is a shame because it has the potential to make the Whitecaps a far more interesting side than the “dig deep and bunker” variety we have grown used to.

The Whitecaps will be “feisty” this season. The additions of Felipe and Juarez has already upped the ante to the likes of Reyna and Waston when it comes to getting under the skin of the opposition and that means Vancouver will be an even less popular team with opponents than last year and that’s no bad thing.

It seems increasingly probable that when Aly Ghazal returns from injury he will spend as much time in central defence as central midfield. Waston will face international (and suspension) absences. Maund is a third choice central defender and Aja and Henry still have much to prove for varying reasons. Throw in the three at the back scenario becoming a more regular occurrence and the plethora of central midfielders now in the side and the Egyptian just seems to make more sense in the defensive role.

And now we return you to your regular blog.

On to the next game.

Time for your Soccer Shorts player ratings

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Davies-7*, Maund-5, Aja-5, Felipe-5, Juarez-6 Mutch-5, Mezquida-5, Blondell-5 (Shea-5.5)

VAR from the Madding crowd

We all want certainty in our lives.

As we fight through the maelstrom of the modern world we become increasingly desperate for something, anything, to cling on to.

Just one solitary thing we can know without having to grapple with the uncertainties of subjectivity or moral relativism. A line in the sand that, once drawn, can never be breached or obliterated.

A moment when we can say without fear or fuss that a thing is true. Definitively, certifiably true.

Which is probably why the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is being introduced into football.

Well, it’s either the search for clarity in a fragile world or the numerous sponsorship opportunities and lucrative contracts that the innovation creates.

Hard to choose between the two really.

I’ve always been very much in the anti VAR crowd so don’t expect anything approaching objectivity here, but a few games into the Confederations Cup have done little to quell my unease.

So let’s look at a few of the issues the current “test” raises.

“It’s only a test”– If somebody taking their driving test smashes into a shop window while texting their mother with their feet they don’t get to say “But it’s only a test! You can’t fail me for that!”.

Yet VAR seems to have that out every time. Players should have been red carded but weren’t? “It’s a test!”. Acres of time spent making a decision that is usually made instantly? “It’s a test!”.

We all know it isn’t really a test of course. There’s no way the authorities will have invested this much time, money and free lunches for it to fail now.

But if there’s any time for genuine criticism of the system then that time is now. None of this “It’s a test!” nonsense anymore please.

The effect on referees”- Most of us are used to driving with a GPS by now (Another driving metaphor? Weird) and we all know how that changes the way we perceive the world.

We pay less attention to our surroundings because we really don’t need to be looking for that church we need to turn left at because the GPS will tell us.

I’m not sure if that makes us worse drivers than before but it definitely makes us different drivers.

And I’m equally not sure that the match official in the Mexico v New Zealand game which descended into a brawl in the Confederations Cup would have acted any differently had there not been VAR

But it definitely felt as though he was willing to abrogate responsibility to the voices in his ear.

Over time that would very much change the way a game is officiated and I’ll leave it to you to decide if having a referee less mentally connected to the action is a good or bad thing.

It doesn’t eliminate controversy  One of the main selling points for the system was that it would eradicate endless debates about goal decisions, penalty calls and red cards.

The limited evidence so far is that it does no such thing.

That really shouldn’t be a surprise when the instances of “I’m seen them given” penalties are so numerous in football but for some reason there was the assumption that somebody looking at a replay seconds after the actual incident had occurred would be able to achieve a the kind of omnipotence only the gods can usually lay claim to.

So VAR won’t reduce arguments about the game at all, but it will at least make them far more tedious.

The law of unintended consequence VAR proponents were thrilled when a Portuguese  goal was recently rescinded because Pepe was shown to be a sliver of shoe offside.

“See!” they said “That worked!”.

And indeed it did. But what will be the eventual repercussion of that kind of decision?

For one thing I doubt that Assistant Referees will be raising their flags for marginal offside calls for much longer.

Why would they? Get it wrong and the tape will show that they stopped a legitimate goal scoring opportunity.

But if it was offside and a goal is scored it can always be reviewed. And if it was offside and no goal is scored then there’s no harm done right?

But what if it was offside and the subsequent attack leads to a corner which then leads to a goal?

Do we go back and review the offside call? You bet we will once something like that happens to a Real Madrid or a Manchester United in a big game.

And what if the corner was given incorrectly anyway? Review that if it leads to a goal? Same answer as above.

In short, a system that was originally promoted as only intervening in the most crucial of decisions is already displaying the kind of mission creep that makes most American inerventions in the Middle East look like well planned military exercises.

The MLS version is even worse- Getting the match official to trot over to a TV screen on the side of the pitch to review an incident should prove to be a bizarre mix of technology and farce.

At least it will provide a few laughs during the longueurs of waiting for an actual decision to be made I suppose.

Roll on August.