BY Art Thiel 11:08PM 03/31/2012

Thiel: Flap over flop in Sounders home loss

San Jose’s Steven Lenhart baited Sounders’ Marc Burch into a foul, which became a penalty kick and the only score in a 1-0 triumph over the Sounders.

Sounders defender Marc Burch admitted it was his fault he allowed himself to be baited into a foul that decided the game. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

Seemed when Vlade Divac flopped in the NBA, he got up right away, sniffed and lit a cigarette.

When Steven Lenhart flopped Saturday night against the Sounders, he went flying, legs, arm and frizzy blond mane going in all directions, then lay there until the yellow card appeared. He popped up, tapped his temple with an index finger to mock Sounders defender Marc Burch and trotted away, grinning.

The foolish foul in the 24th minute turned into an easy penalty kick and a lame, 1-0 home defeat for the Sounders. It was doubly embarrassing for Major League Soccer, which is trying to legislate against, rather than reward,  gaming the system.

“I should be bigger than that, better than that,” Burch said of the foul in which he acknowledged moving into Lenhart’s path in the penalty area as a retaliation for a foul by Lenhart that went uncalled moments earlier. The referee bought Lenhart’s theatrics and San Jose’s leading scorer, Chris Wondolowski, calmly pushed the PK past goalie Michael Gspurning, and that was the match.

“I’ve seen him enough, it’s the same tricks every time,” Burch said. “He’s the kind of player who looks for exactly that. He got one tonight. I don’t think it’s the best soccer.”

It isn’t the best soccer. Yet it’s done relentlessly by many players and most teams. The Sounders were busted Friday when Alvaro Fernandez was fined an undisclosed amount by the league for flopping — called “embellishment of contact” — the previous Saturday in a win over Houston.

Going into Saturday’s game, Sounders coach Sig Schmid warned his players that Lenhart was a rules scoundrel.

“That’s Steven’s game,” Schmid said.  “He does it all the time, then apologizes later. That’s his game.”

In a physical, defensive match, one slip was all that was needed to give the Earthquakes (3-1) the Western Conference upset and disappoint 38,458 fans at the Clink, although judging by the vacancies in the upper reaches, hundreds stayed home to watch the NCAA basketball semifinals.

The defeat was particularly galling to Schmid, who was missing due to injuries starters Mauro Rosales (knee), Eddie Johnson (hip), Adam Johansson (hamstring) and Brad Evans (hamstring), then lost Jhon Kennedy Hurtado at halftime to a pelvic injury. Yet the game was winnable, but the Sounders managed nada despite an 18-12 shot advantage.

“The game wasn’t one-sided; they didn’t dominate,” he said. “It was more us not holding onto the ball. Players had turnovers you didn’t expect. We settled down in the second half.”

Lenhart and a reserve forward, Alan Gordon, had seven fouls between them: “That’s a ton of fouls for one position,” Schmid said. He said the Burch foul was like the call in basketball where the player making the second contact is the one who gets called.

Burch knew immediately he was had.

“My fault,  100 percent,” he said. Of the previous play, he said he “went up for a header and (Lenhart) elbowed me in the back. He tried to run to the far post and I jumped into his path and he sold it pretty well. I didn’t try to take him down on purpose.

“I think a foul before that was warranted. In the air, getting pushed in the back on a goal-scoring opportunity is a little worse than me jumping into his path. He sells fouls pretty well, and he sold that one as well as he could. Sometimes the ref buys it, sometimes he doesn’t.”

It was a pro move, but a cheap one, thwarting the Sounders as well as the league’s credibility.


  • thekellygreenandwhite

    Hopefully in the future the referees will be wiser to Lenhart, and his performances will come back to haunt him.

    • Artthiel

       He is said to be a chronic manipulator, kelly, and his coach complains that the refs are too hard on him. I get the gamesnmanship, but the fans’ own eyes don’t lie, especially backed by replay. It’s a blight.

  • RadioGuy

    Flopping is something that’s been plaguing the game for years, and may do as much as anything to damage the sport’s quest for credibility with American sports fans who AREN’T into soccer.  Yes, you get flopping in basketball, too, but it’s a small annoyance in a game that routinely features a combined 200 points per game.  When a flop leads to the only score in a soccer game, what is a casual fan supposed to take away from that, especially when soccer proponents are trying to counter the perception that the sport is “boring” to many of these people by touting its artistry and intricacy?  How do you sell a flop as being “artistic?”

    Not to single out the Sounders or MLS for this because flopping happens at much higher levels of soccer elsewhere than what we get in North America, but stuff like this isn’t going to help win new converts to what IS a great sport.

    • Artthiel

      Exactly, radio, why cheapen the the game with cheap tricks designed to manipulate? Everyone last night ended up looking foolish — Burch for being baited, Lenhart for being the perp, and the official for being had.

  • Brent

    It is disturbing when a game is decided by who is officiating.  You had the Lenhart flop leading to the game’s only goal.  You had another hard foul in the box in the second half that wasn’t called, and would have likely been the equalizer.  You had a red card that was retracted a few seconds later.  The officials should never be the difference in a match.  And yet, that’s what happened last night.

    That said, the teams were pretty even on the pitch.  The Sounders had their chances, and blew them.  San Jose blew quite a few chances.  San Jose played harder and smarter, IMHO.  I feel sorry for the ref who has to spend this week thinking about how it all came down to a call he shouldn’t have made, a call he didn’t make, and a red card he got suckered into retracting.  Hopefully, we pay the refs enough to become the best refs MLS can afford.  They work their behinds off, too, and make just as many mistakes as the players.

    • Artthiel

      Brent, while other sports have officiating miscalls that determine outcomes, a too-high percentage of soccer tactics are devoted to the deliberate manipulation of officiating. It’s one thing to try to get away with punching a player in a football pile-up, it’s another to deliberately commit a fraud seen by thousands in house and millions on TV.  Regarding the fines, they may be disproportionate, but obviously it had no effect on Lenhart. MLS has to go Goodell on this if it wants to retain credibility with its growing audience in the U.S.

      • Brent

        It isn’t just the wrongful results (though the Sounders obviously didn’t deserve to win last night).  It’s the growing injury list, as in another Sounder has gone onto the injury list every match so far this season.  A dozen more matches, and there may be nobody left on the roster.  That’s what really has to stop.

        It’s partially bad karma.  There are more than a couple Sounders who I’ve seen get kicked in the shin, fall down, and grab their face.  As a Sounders fan, I am repeatedly embarassed.  Yes, the other sides do it too, and get away with it.

        Lenhart once played under Coach Schmid at the Crew.  He played the same game then.

        Coach Schmid lamented that referees aren’t doing enough to protect star players, like Mauro, but when Mauro is known for some of the best acting in the MLS, he’s going to find less protection from the refs.

        They review films.  They learn the tactics.  They sometimes even notify the commissioner that some blatant and flagrant violations merit ex post facto punishments, such as happened to Flaco last week.

        Change starts at home.  Word to Coach Schmid:  I didn’t buy a season ticket to see hockey.  I bought a season ticket to see the beautiful game.  If someone engages in embellishment or violence, pull him out of the Starting Eleven.

        Show violence and embellishment the red card!

        And a parting plea to the ECS:  That song about the firing squad may be popular around the world, but it is really in poor taste after what happened in Port Saaid.  Can we give the songs promoting violence a rest, please?

  • Brent

    Lenhart, though, is probably biting his nails more than the referee.  A red card is just time off the pitch.  Embellishment, as we heard last week, can come with a big, big fine, which is all the more of a punishment when the players are suffering under the yoke of a salary cap.

    If you ask me, the fines should be much smaller until MLS agrees to lift the salary cap.  The fines need to be in line with their pathetically small salaries.

    And as long as the MLS is the only professional football league in the world with a player salary cap, it will never be taken serious by soccer fans, regardless of how good or bad the officiating is.