Were I more adept at combining sports talk with political commentary, this is where I’d suggest that, although neither the Alberta side nor the Ontario side got exactly what they wanted in last week’s contest, both can take solace knowing there’s always next time. As it stands, I’m content to note that after Forge FC’s 1-0 win in the first leg of the Canadian Premier League Finals this past Saturday, there’s still — and here’s a sports phrase you’ve definitely never heard — everything to play for in the decisive second leg this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. MT/available on OneSoccer). If you like shots hitting crossbars and goalkeepers saving penalty kicks and red-card debates running on ad infinitum, hoo boy, did you ever like that first leg. And hoo boy, will you like this week’s column! As the kids say, let’s goooooooo.
Does Joel Waterman deserve to play in the second leg?

My ready-made answer is no, simply because our universe is a cold and random place where no one truly "deserves" anything. My sympathetic answer is yes, as it seems incredibly harsh for a player to miss the second leg of a championship final for a non-violent incident. My third bowl of porridge is that although the referee’s decision was just right as per the letter of the law, Waterman and Cavalry FC are also right to feel peeved. Was a red card necessary? Well, Tristan Borges was certainly in the midst of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity when the ball struck Waterman’s arm. The only question is whether that contact met the standard of handball. Without going down the rabbit hole of quoting the 2019/2020 FIFA Laws of the Game and the IFAB’s explanation for its clarification of the handball rule, the simple answer is yes, it did. Thus, there’s no question: it’s a red card. But I wonder — does a situation such as this truly merit punishment above and beyond the penalty kick and sending-off that result at field level, especially given that yellow-card DOGSO offenses (albeit not for handball) are now part of the Laws of the Game? That’s a question that the appropriate governing bodies may want to chew on a bit in the years to come.
Will Jay Wheeldon be up for a Canadian Screen Award?

I’m not sure how the nominating process goes for those prestigious honours, but if you know anyone on the appropriate committee, be sure they’re aware of Wheeldon’s dramatic work during that tangle with Borges in the first leg. On that note…
Does Tristan Borges deserve to play in the second leg?

First, see above re: cold and random nature of the universe. Now then, depending on when you’re reading this, there may be a final answer regarding Forge’s appeal of his red card. But as of this writing, I am assuming Borges won’t be taking any further part in this CPL season. Rather than delve into the specifics of the situation itself (because hey, why should my years of refereeing experience interfere with anyone’s ability to produce hot takes?), I’d like to instead muse about the extent to which context affects our impression of big refereeing decisions. In theory, the rules of any sport should be applied equally and evenly regardless of the time in the game, who’s involved and any external mitigating factors. But I know as well as you do that, in practice, this is rarely the case. The first leg of the Finals was chippy, as championships are wont to be. The red card to Waterman raised tensions further, gave the Cavs a sense of grievance and may have, unbeknownst to him, subconsciously introduced into the referee’s mind the idea that a sending off to Forge would restore the scales of cosmic justice. As for those of us in the peanut gallery, sure, it doesn’t seem right that the league’s presumptive Golden Boot winner will miss the decisive game of the season. It similarly felt wrong when Michael Ballack had to miss the 2002 FIFA World Cup final due to a yellow card in the semi-final — it felt so wrong that FIFA subsequently changed the rules on yellow card accumulation. But back to the theoretical purpose of the rules and the people who enforce them. The referee cannot reasonably be tasked with worrying about anything beyond the singular game in which they’re involved. It’s not up to the referee to ensure that superstars get to stick around and fulfill whatever external narratives are in place. Referees can simply do their best with whatever is put in front of them in the moment — and if that means certain narratives are killed, well, then it’s on chuckleheads like me to craft new ones. So…
What’s the one big narrative for the second leg?

If Borges’s goal total is frozen at 13 (again, presuming his suspension is upheld), the obvious new story is that a Dominique Malonga hat trick would not only win him the Golden Boot but, most likely, a championship for Cavalry. Given his standout work all season long and his brilliance in the first leg, there’s every chance that Cavs goalkeeper Marco Carducci could emerge as the biggest difference-maker in what’s likely to be a tight contest. Penalty kicks are a possibility! Hooray! Or ugh? Who knows, shootouts are always joyfully nauseating affairs. Let’s just pray the score after 90 minutes isn’t 1-0 for the home side. Or pray that it is. I dunno, we’re all broken on the inside. Plus, not to belabor a point, but surely the weather story will be up there. As of this writing, the forecast is eight degrees and partly cloudy, which seems relatively nice but, then again, I’ve never heard of "predictable weather" being one of Calgary’s claims to fame. However, one of its claims to fame could soon be that it’s home to The First Finals Champion (Or Whatever We’re Saying To Differentiate From Spring And Fall Season Winners) In CPL History ©. It’s either them or Hamilton. May it go to whichever team deserves it more.

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