The similarities between Toronto FC’s season opener at Real Salt Lake and last year’s MLS Cup final continue to stack up: missed chances, a tough pitch, frustration from the penalty spot and, now, unhappiness over the refereeing.
It did not get mentioned a ton in the aftermath of the loss to the Seattle Sounders - no one wants to be seen making excuses, after all - but the visitors certainly benefited from the fact that referee Alan Kelly tended to take a lenient approach to awarding free-kicks and dishing out yellow cards for persistent fouling.
Sebastian Giovinco suffered that night and Jozy Altidore was the victim on Saturday, coming in for some rough treatment from giant RSL defender Chris Schuler. Altidore actually ended up conceding as many fouls (three) as Schuler, and Greg Vanney believes that is because he was being called up for trying to shake off the close - and he felt unfair - attention of his marker.
“You can hope you get the calls,” Vanney said. “Jozy is a big, powerful guy and my gripe the whole game was that their centre-backs, especially Schuler, had a hold of him all the time, so you know it was hard for Jozy to move, he was literally having to shake free on the hold and half those times he’s getting the call.
“The irony at the end of the day is that he gets the yellow card for persistent infringement and not the other way around.
“My feeling on that was that Schuler got an early yellow card for kicking a ball away and I thought he was pretty safe from then on because I didn’t think he was going to get a second yellow for much of anything unless he really got ahold of somebody, which he did. He was holding and Jozy was trying to break free and we need the game the game to be called.
“If both teams are going to be holding, it needs to be called for it. That was supposed to be one of the things that [the league was] going to look at this year, is holding especially in and around the box, and it wasn’t [called]. I was asking for it and it wasn’t happening.”
Vanney is referring there to the four new points of emphasis for referees in MLS this season, one of which was holding - but, more specifically, in the penalty area during set pieces.
His grievances may still apply, however, to another of the four points: persistent infringement, which was referred to as the “small, petty fouls that don’t rise to a yellow-card nature in isolation, but break the rhythm of the game and upset opponents”. Schuler was the only player on the pitch to commit three fouls without being punished with a card for them but, as Vanney noted, Allen Chapman was never likely to want to show him a second yellow for minor offences.
“It was good, it was physical,” Altidore said. “Sometimes you get those calls, sometimes you don’t. I just thought he let a bit go today, which you understand - it’s the first game of the year, I guess, but maybe on another night one of them can get a second yellow.
“But they did their job, they were tough to play against and in the end, you have to be happy with a draw.”
RSL coach Jeff Cassar was, unsurprisingly, pleased with the way Schuler was able to toe the line.
“I had a conversation with Chris the other day [about how] he has to have a presence about him,” Cassar said. “He is a big, strong boy and I think he got stronger as the game went on. That is really encouraging.
“Him and Dave [Horst] together were very solid and I thought Chris [Wingert] and Tony [Beltran] dealt with some midfield runners and the width they show.”