Saturday night Minnesota United had what seemed like a sure win ripped away at the last moments by a penalty called for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Consensus thought across the Twitterverse (among other places) was that it was not a penalty and that head referee Lukasz Szpala made a massive mistake. Heath even started off his press conference on Friday sayin,
“I think the referee [Lukasz Szpala] was the only one who thought it was [a penalty], but considering the night he had, I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s probably made a really poor decision in the 93rd minute because he’s made them most of the evening, I felt.
Diving into more specifics Heath would say,
“I thought [Cristian Dajome] threw himself into Ethan [Finlay] and the ref fell for it. I didn’t think it was a penalty, seeing it live and seeing it after.”
Ethan Finlay even broke down the call from his point of view saying.
“I’ll give you two points of view. In real time, ball ricochets off my chest, puts [Cristian Dajome] in the space. I know that he’s to my right but I try to take a straight line, cut in towards the ball, knowing that he’s there. I didn’t know if he had the inside shoulder on me necessarily but I was going to keep my line, essentially. I felt like I did that throughout that moment and I felt like it was more of a lunge by him into me.”
“The ball came straight off my chest, he never had possession of that ball. I don’t know. There’s four referees on the field, there’s the VAR where there’s at least one or two.” Finlay told the press post match. “That has to be explained and unfortunately, they can explain it but it won’t give us the points back and that’s why I’m gutted and that’s why this team is gutted. That was 92 minutes of busting our ass and it was stolen from us tonight.”
This really is a situation where the Professional Referee Organization and possibly even Major League Soccer need to come out and clear the air. On why it was a penalty, if they back the call, and why there was no VAR. In fact the lack of VAR review is something that shocked everyone.
“If the VAR doesn’t call him to do it, then that should go on him. There needs to be transparency. This is an easy thing that we had in the bubble where there’s transparency in these rooms. I don’t understand why we can’t do it. It would be great for fan entertainment. Players and coaching staff would enjoy transparency. [Media] will like it,” Finlay said. “Who is objecting to it? Is it the refs? Okay, we’ll solve that problem but these are moments where we’re not going to know what happened between these five or six people but I think everyone should want to know and we should. We should be asking these questions. Too big of moments. We’ll look back at three months time right now and these two points could be the difference between hosting a playoff game or not. That’s the reality. And we’ll have to face that going forward.”
Heath would also comment post match that regardless of the decision he was still proud of his side for the effort.
“I’m disappointed for the players because on the back of putting so much in on Wednesday evening against a team that makes you work so hard. We’ve had our highest physical data since I’ve been here on Wednesday in LA. For the same group to put in the same effort and commitment in that they’ve done tonight, speaks volumes and although I said it feels like a defeat, it wasn’t. We keep the run going and we’ve set ourselves up nicely for next week.”