It is acknowledged in soccer that on-field decorum must be enforced with a strict carding penalty system lest games devolve into a series of trips, body blows and pull-downs that would slow proceedings to a crawl.
Even at that, the suspensions assessed this season are being deemed excessive, robbing the Canadian Premier League of three headline players in what should be a marquee-match-up between Pacific FC and Forge FC of Hamilton today at 5 p.m. at Starlight Stadium.
What is particularly irking PFC is the case of Manny Aparicio. The engine of the PFC midfield has been assessed an extra game, on top of the three-game suspension he had just completed, because of a red card issued in a 1-0 loss to HFX on Aug. 21 in Halifax.
The Tridents prepared during the week with the return of Aparicio featuring prominently in training but learned late in the week that one game was being added to Aparicio’s suspension and that he will have to sit out a fourth consecutive match. It is apparently because this was Aparicio’s second red card of the season. It is not known why it wasn’t simply assessed as a four-game suspension in the first place.
PFC head coach James Merriman said he only found out when he tried to input Aparicio’s name in the official online roster sheet and was denied. Merriman said he received no prior notification of the suspension extension. “This is incredibly frustrating and lacks clarity,” said Merriman. “This is not right and difficult to take.”
Commentators are saying this is not a good look on Canada Soccer. OneSoccer broadcast analyst and insider Oliver Platt tweeted: “Pacific has been left blindsided by a decision to suspend Manny Aparicio for a ‘fourth’ game, ruling him out of Sunday’s crucial match vs. Forge. This appears to be without precedent in the CPL. Very hard to justify this as a fair process going into a game with significant playoff implications.”
The CPL card accumulation list on its website reads longer than a grocery shopping list for a state dinner at Rideau Hall.
Also missing today will be Amer Didic, a towering presence in central defence for PFC, to the yellow-card accumulation rule in which a fourth yellow card during the season is an automatic one-game suspension. Also out is 18-time Canada-capped Forge FC captain and veteran mainstay Kyle Bekker, sitting out the first of a three-game suspension for a red card.
In traditional soccer phraseology, today’s game could be termed a version of the Cup Winner’s Cup. Even though the Canadian Premier League champion actually lifts the North Star Shield, fans get the point: The only two teams to have won the CPL championship meet today at Starlight Stadium in a crucial match-up. The 2019 and 2020 league champion Forge FC and defending 2021 champion PFC are in a desperate scramble for the four 2022 playoff berths with only five points separating the top-five clubs.
“The time is now. There is no time to lose. Every game is a playoff game,” said Merriman.
“We need the three points. We need to win matches. We have to be at our best in all five remaining matches. Our group understands that and is motivated and prepared for the intensity of this match.”
The PFC bench boss said his club can’t change its attacking mindset, even though the attack has been largely misfiring since the transfer of still CPL-leading scorer and former Mexico Under-20 and U-23 international Alejandro Diaz to Sogndal of the Norwegian First Division for a Sogndal club-record transfer fee, and the second-highest in CPL history, listed by Transfermarkt as $165,000 US.
“We have to be on the front foot and be aggressive and impose ourselves like we always do at home,” said Merriman.