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Did Steven Lenhart deserve red for his nasty elbow Sunday?

Oct 1, 2013, 10:04 PM EDT

Lenhart 2

It may seem misplaced to pick on MLS officiating on a weekend when the men in the middle got so much right.

Robbie Keane offside on the potential late equalizer in Portland? Well done, sirs.

Controversial handball call in Seattle on Red Bulls defender Markus Holgersson? They nailed it. Good call.

A trio of handball appeals in the penalty area in Philly’s close and surprising (1-0) win over Kansas City? Those all looked correct, too.

Then  calls weren’t all correct, for sure; there will always be a few that are, let’s say, “something less than right.” There were around MLS in Round 31, but the body of work was a better than average weekend for league officials, especially in the potential game-changing-decision department.

Simon Borg, noted rabble-rouser from Major League Soccer’s bulging editorial staff, does his usual thorough job of covering matters of the men in the middle here.

One potential game-changer was a swing and a miss, however, as referee Jose Carlos Rivero needed to deal with Steven Lenhart’s nasty elbow against Chivas USA defender Steve Purdy. And by “deal with,” I mean “red card.”

Lenhart appears to swing his elbow and make solid contact with Purdy’s face. Rivero did caution the Earthquakes’ striker, who was later ejected for a second yellow. (Unlike Borg, I think the second booking was deserved.)

Here’s the deal on Lenhart: he deserves zero benefit of the doubt. Anybody who has watched the guy knows he plays somewhere between “overly aggressive” and “downright dirty.” We’ve written about it again and again. If it seems harsh to toss a player in the first half, there’s a mountain of evidence in the Lenhart file that says otherwise.

In other words, if interim San Jose manager Mark Watson or anyone else wants to roll the dice and put this guy out there, they deserve whatever they get. If that means playing a man down for almost an hour (as a red card in this case would have meant) so be it.

This is one choice that could impact the ongoing, tight-as-can-be playoff races. Just ask Vancouver, Colorado, Los Angeles or possibly even Dallas – the teams still jostling with San Jose for that final playoff spot or two in the West.

The disciplinary committee may well add a game suspension for Lenhart’s elbow – but it doesn’t go back and alter the outcome of Sunday’s contest, where San Jose eventually took all three points.


  1. drewvt6 - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    Steven Lenhart has made his own bed…

  2. wfjackson3 - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    Steven Lenhart deserves a red card every single time he steps on the field.

  3. olddirtygamer - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    There isn’t one team in MLS that wouldn’t sign Steve Lenhart to their squad if they had a chance. Risk-reward? Yes, it is there but he takes on the most physical defenders each week knowing full well he won’t get calls in his favor; and, he does so to pull that defender off of San Jose’s real scoring threat, Chris Wondolowski. Not to discount this but Lenhart can also flat-out play center forward and score goals so to that end, he fits what San Jose needs just like when he played in Cleveland, he fit what they needed.

    People can point a finger at Steven Lenhart as is their want but there are plenty of other players in this league who are similarly dirty and far less talented. I’m sort of glad that people circle San Jose on their schedule if only to worry about Lenhart and discount the fact that the Earthquakes are a scrappy, combative, and good team.

    • perrinbar - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      This is one of the most annoying lines of argument ever. If anything, I think it proves the point. If the only possible way you see his behavior as acceptable is if he is on your team, then there is a problem. He is not just a jerk, he’s a danger to other players. The number of injuries he has caused by being over the line is not insignificant. I don’t want him on any team I support and I don’t want him on the field.

  4. supercoop8 - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Did Lenhart stay down because his funny bone smashed into a skull??? The guy is a scumbag

  5. joanismylover - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    I know I’m taking the comment bait and I’m ashamed for it, but really? Why don’t you insult Lenhart’s dead father while you’re at it? Both you and Borg got it wrong.

    Borg called it “reckless” and worthy of a yellow card offense. In fact, “reckless” striking of an opponent is not among the seven listed offenses which merit a caution. “Reckless” striking of an opponent does constitute a direct free kick to the opponent, per Rule 12 of FIFA’s laws of the game. So if Borg is correct and it was “reckless”, all it was deserving of was a free kick. He wasn’t.

    It took a couple of reads for me to figure it out, but you don’t really call it anything. You simply label it a “nasty elbow” while then contradicting yourself by saying he “appears to swing his elbow”. Can it be “nasty” if you can’t even say for certain, with hindsight and video, that he in fact, did, intentionally “swing his elbow”. Was it “violent conduct” or “serious foul play” such as to constitute a sending off offence, per Law 12? You don’t say. Instead you argue that Lenhart should be tossed because he’s been discplined by the committtee before and has a “reputation”.

    That’s a very un-American sentiment, Mr. Davis. We don’t try folks here based on “reputation.” We try them on the incident in question. But you either don’t have the time or the inclination to do so, and in which case you should just stop.

    As for the incident itself both you and every other commentator ignore that Purdy is grabbing Lenhart’s shirt before/as Lenhart is jumping, and Lenhart is clearly doing a flick header to Wondo, lying deeper than Lenhart. Would Lenhart have “appeared to swing” the elbow if Purdy wasn’t grabbing his shirt? Is shirt pulling legal? It certainly seems to me to be “unsporting behavior” worthy of a caution? One could argue that pulling an opponent’s shirt as he attempts to jump “endagered Lenhart’s safety” and is thus worthy of a suspension in and of itself. You have played soccer before, right? Have you ever tried to go up for a header when someone is pulling your shirt? Also in order to direct your header, you have to twist a bit, and use of the arms assists. So that cuts against the idea that there was serious foul play or violent conduct.

    There’s a lot of bad soccer “journalism” out there but you too often take the cake with your half baked theories. I simply cannot believe you – as a member of the media – think that Lenhart should not be given the benefit of the doubt. Journalists do not, by definition, try a person on the basis of his reputation. The whole point of journalism is to get the full story, and your condemning Mr. Lenhart based on reputation alone cements you in the bottom echelons of media “journalists” – the dregs of the internet “parrot” journalism cadre. A real journalist would have been sceptical, analytical, and asked the questions I just asked. Real journalists certainly don’t condemn people on their “reputation.”

    It’s a shame given that this site has good analysts and writers – “Liviu Bird” in particular.

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