The Canada Day long weekend saw some fantastic storylines in Major League Soccer, with last-minute goals coming in games played in Philadelphia, Montreal, San Jose and Los Angeles adding to the drama.
For Canada's three MLS teams, the results were mixed.
Toronto FC fell to Real Salt Lake, 1-0 at BMO Field, continuing TFC's winless streak on home soil. The last time the Reds picked up maximum points on the grass pitch down by the lakeshore was on July 18, 2012, when they beat the Colorado Rapids by a score of 2-1.
A loss to Real Salt Lake wasn't entirely unexpected; the Western Conference leaders are the form team in MLS right now, having won seven of their last nine games.
Toronto FC had a few fleeting chances, with the best falling to Bobby Convey just inside the penalty box after Danny Koevermans found the winger cutting inside, only for Convey to poke his ensuing shot wide of the target.
There was a penalty appeal by Jeremy Brockie in the first half, after the Kiwi went down following contact with Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers. The referee made the correct decision in waving away Brockie's appeal, as Brockie simply ran into Borchers after pushing the ball beyond the defender. While there was contact – Borchers clipped his own heels and went down as a result – it wasn't instigated by the defender and certainly didn't merit a penalty kick.
Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen felt otherwise, saying in the post-game press conference that they were denied a “stone-cold penalty”.
Whether it was an attempt to deflect criticism away from yet another uninspiring performance is unclear. What is very evident is that Toronto FC is in dire need of a creative influence in midfield. Expect the upcoming transfer window to be a busy one for Nelsen and General Manager Kevin Payne, as the two continue to try to turn Toronto into a contender.
There was controversy in Washington, D.C. as the Vancouver Whitecaps held on for a 1-0 win against United. Camilo scored the game's only goal after he smashed home a penalty kick early in the second half following a foul by DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid on Vancouver midfielder Matt Watson.
The controversy arose because replays clearly show that Hamid played the ball before making contact with Watson, who went sprawling under the challenge.
Proponents of the call argue that “getting the ball first” isn't a defence for Hamid. They claim that his challenge was careless, and merited a foul being given. That the foul occurred inside the penalty area meant that referee Matt Foerster had no choice but to award a penalty.
Critics argue that Hamid's challenge was a legal one; he got the ball first, and his momentum carried him into Watson. It wasn't careless, but rather a strong challenge to win the ball.
I agree with the critics.
I do not want our game to become so sanitized that players are unable to challenge for the ball, knowing that even the slightest contact will result in a foul, a card or a penalty being given.
Contact between players has always been a part of the game and denying a goal-scoring opportunity – as Hamid did when he came out to challenge Watson – can swing the momentum in a game. The referee's job is to ensure that whatever contact occurs is within the laws of the game, but I feel that we are beginning to err too far on the side of caution. If this carries on, it won't be long before no contact at all is allowed in the game.
The controversy masked the fact that Vancouver has been on a tidy little run of late, winning five of their last seven games to drag themselves into the playoff race in the Western Conference. The Whitecaps have a tough week coming up, though, with an away game against Sporting KC on Wednesday (which can be seen live on TSN at 9pm et/6pm pt) followed by a home game against Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders on Saturday (also on TSN, 11pm et/8pm pt).
The Montreal Impact were involved in a seven-goal thriller at Stade Saputo in Montreal, conceding in stoppage time to lose 4-3 to the Colorado Rapids.
In head coach Marco Schallibaum's first season in charge, the Impact have been in fantastic form, sitting atop the Eastern Conference with 29 points from 15 games played. They have games in hand on all of the teams chasing them, and if the Impact can convert those games into points, they will have a very good chance of making their first MLS playoff appearance in just their second year in the league.
The Impact are anchored by some excellent senior players - Patrice Bernier, Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari to name a few. They have also made some very good off-season additions, with one of them – Daniele Paponi – scoring two goals against Colorado. If the Impact can stay healthy, they have more than enough to challenge not just for a playoff place, but also for a deep run into the post-season.
The Impact will kick off an MLS double header on TSN on Wednesday when they renew their rivalry with Toronto FC at 7pm et/4pm pt, before Sporting KC hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps at 9pm et/6pm pt.