We’ll preface this by saying Sebastian Fernandez has been one of the many pleasant surprises for the upstart Vancouver Whitecaps this season.
Acquired on a one-year loan from Uruguay in February, the 24-year-old midfielder has added flare and a scoring touch to a young Whitecaps lineup that is as exhilarating to the fans as it is formidable to the opponents.
But on Thursday, the long arm of Major League Soccer’s Disciplinary Committee levied punishment on Fernandez, fining him an undisclosed amount for embellishment from an incident late in the first half of Sunday’s road victory over the Portland Timbers.
The league also posted a video of what happened. It’s worthy of a cringe or two.
Fernandez gets tangled up with Timbers’ defender Pa Modou Kah, when Vancouver’s player suddenly grabs his face with an expression of agony, staggers around for a second or two and then hits the deck and proceeds to roll around.
Kah was infuriated with the antics, and he let Fernandez know about it, too. Timbers midfielder Diego Chara began smiling when Vancouver’s player began his act.
A scrum ensued, there was a collection of Portland players, clad in red and black kits, and Vancouver’s big boys like Gershon Koffie, Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien.
Fernandez was given a yellow card, as was Kah.
On Wednesday, Vancouver’s first-year head coach Carl Robinson, who in the past has lauded Fernandez for his skill, condemned the behaviour of his player in this particular case.
Robinson told reporters that he spoke with Fernandez and his entire team about embellishment.
“I told him it’s not acceptable, we don’t accept that. I don’t condone that, the club won’t condone that and it was dealt with internally,” Robinson told reporters. “It won’t be happening again.
“It’s not what I’m about as a head coach and it’s not what the club is about. It’s important they know that. It does happen but it’s not going to happen with our club.”
Sitting in the press box, well removed from the field of battle, it’s not always easy to discern in real time a foul or a contact between players that results in injury. That’s where the benefit of replay comes in. A second or third look, with the speed of the initial play slowed down, gives a clear picture of what happened.
Then again, there are times when an action — an embellishment, foul or mistake — is so obvious and egregious that you know exactly what happened on first glance.
Referees, paid professionals – and certainly MLS officials have come under fire in recent Vancouver games – will make mistakes in real time. And in some cases, and depending on the sport, they can’t use video replay to reverse certain decisions, much to the chagrin of fans, players and coaches.
They have an extremely difficult job because the balance of a game can hinge on their calls. They’re in a no-win situation sometimes and for their mistakes, they do need to be held accountable.
But you can understand their frustration when a player tries to play them for a fool, trying to gain an advantage by pretending to be hurt by the actions of another player.
It’s a problem. Not just in soccer, although in a sport referred to as the ‘beautiful game’, embellishment and diving may be enough to turn some people off.
But this occurs in hockey and basketball, too. You could imagine that in just about every kind of sport where contact between opponents happens, using some theatrics to sway a referee’s decision will happen. It’s unfortunate.
MLS was right to discipline Fernandez. Robinson was right to denounce his player’s actions. He was right to say the club won’t tolerate that kind of stuff.
The Whitecaps, unlike is recent years, are exciting and Fernandez is very much a part of this club’s entertaining makeup.
Embellishment is a tactic the Whitecaps have no need for.