If you're like me, you get asked a lot how a 0-0 draw could possibly be exciting. Well, instead of punching them in the face, how about showing last Saturday's Earthquakes-Galaxy game instead.
This is a story that will one day be made into a major motion picture, because it was just that astonishing. Also because Phil Anschutz must have one good soccer movie in him, since "Game of Their Lives" sure as hell wasn't it.
It was all going wrong for those plucky underdogs, our beloved Los Angeles Galaxy.
Okay, that part's weird. The Galaxy don't often get to be the good guys, at least since they stopped losing to DC United in MLS Cups.
But in this story, San Jose are the bad guys. Hey, the Earthquakes have had seven years now to make a movie based on November 9, 2003, and as far as I can tell they haven't even started casting. I can't do everything around here. Besides, it serves them right for wearing the name of a notorious pyramid scheme as a sponsor.
Anyway, back to the story. It will be forgotten that San Jose hit the post very, very early, and that this was nearly a game that galvanized the Earthquakes and made them feel like contenders again. As it was, Donovan Ricketts had lost none of the form he showed in the Gold Cup. It looked like we were in for a game where San Jose spent ninety minutes trying to sneak by Ricketts, much like the United States a week earlier.
But Ricketts broke his arm in an unfortunate collision. (By the way, fans, once the guy leaves the field, you can pretty much conclude he's not faking the injury, and you can stop yelling obscenities at him. Or not, it's a free country. But you know, just saying. There are players I'd keep yelling obscenities at, I suppose. I just don't remember what Ricketts did to San Jose in particular. Seattle, that I can sort of see.)
No problem for Los Angeles, who have the best backup in the league in Josh Saunders.
Then this happened.
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eKfk1KvY6s"]YouTube - San Jose Earthquakes vs LA Galaxy : RED CARD Saunders is ejected[/ame]
Let me defend referee Juan Guzman here, who's taken some stick for allegedly allowing the situation to get out of control. But as you can see from the video, unless Guzman had been right on top of the play, he probably wouldn't have been able to stop Saunders from elbowing Lenhart.
And why on earth would he have been right on top of the play? Nine times out of eight, that ball is going downfield, and the ref needs to be in position to watch the outfield players slap each other around. It's completely understandable that he wasn't prepared for Lenhart's bush league move.
Actually, I apologize to bush leagues everywhere. Heading a ball in the keeper's possession is something that some bright lad tries once in U-whatever, for which he is sharply reprimanded and told to get back into the crowd and try for "big kicks." For a professional player to do that in front of paying customers is outrageously laughable.
Even a Collina or a Castrili wouldn't have seen that coming, and it's unfair to blame Guzman for Lenhart's room temperature IQ (in Celsius).
One must regretfully conclude that Saunders deserved his red card. And it's unreasonable to expect a first-time ref not to enforce the letter of the law, as well as its spirit. No referee can afford to let elbows be thrown around in a rivalry game. Ideally, Guzman red-cards Lenhart as well, for bringing the game into disrepute and not knowing the rules.
But...c'mon, people, of course Saunders was trying to hit Lenhart. That was not a random elbow. If Saunders didn't actually see Lenhart, he had a pretty good idea that he was chasing the ball. It was a very good guess. I wouldn't have carded Saunders, since Lenhart deserved to have his nose broken for that stunt - but yeah, maybe Saunders should not have forced Guzman to show him a red card.
Maybe Saunders knew that Mike Magee was just that much of a badass.
But if Guzman had ejected Lenhart as well as Saunders, the Quakes probably win the game by several goals.
And this Frank Yallop interview by TheBaySoccer's Youtube account (they do a fantastic job of posting Quakes post-game stuff) shows what happens when a determined defense meets, for want of a better term, a turnip:
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypGT4P11JYc&feature=related"]YouTube - Frank Yallop Post-Game interview June 25, 2011 following 0-0 Draw against LA Galaxy[/ame]
What Davis and Yallop are too polite to say is that the Galaxy's second half game plan boiled down to "play smart, but dirty." Gregg Berhalter spent the next forty-five minutes putting Lenhart into Chris Jericho armbars, and Guzman waved it all on. Appropriately, because Lenhart deserved nothing. Had Yallop subbed out Lenhart for someone who had an alibi for the first half, Berhalter might have been whistled for the occasional foul.
By the way, if you think Guzman should have enforced the laws of the game in the second half, consider this. Fox did a fine job after the halftime break in showing Dave Sarachan trying to start a fight with Lenhart on the way to the Buck Shaw tunnel. Unlike Saunders, Lenhart refused to be baited.
As of this writing, it is now six days after one of the clearest coaching misconduct incidents of the season. Sarachan has not been fined. Nor should he have been, because Lenhart had it coming. Usually the league is not that cool with coaches pushing opposing players. But if Sarachan can do that on national television with impunity, then Guzman's inaction is just as right. Wearing Berhalter like a chinchilla the rest of the game should have been the least of Lenhart's worries.
That gameplan wasn't motivated by revenge. The Quakes had a man advantage, and the Galaxy had a goalkeeper who was in excellent physical condition. Even playing under rugby rules, San Jose should have dented the Galaxy close to five times. Despite Yallop's excuses, in 11-10, someone is always open, and the nearest eligible goalkeeper for Los Angeles was back in Los Angeles.
Magee should have been tested from minute one of the second half, but the remainder of the Galaxy would not let them. Yes, the Galaxy bunkered. The Galaxy bunker has failed with eleven players and a professional goalkeeper. This was an amazing performance, and Magee's finest moments didn't come until the final ten minutes. Had San Jose managed to get past Gonzalez, Berhalter, and the rest before then, Magee wouldn't have even been that comfortable. But the Quakes couldn't even get by Juninho, Birchall and Stephens - and they didn't have the green light to foul with impunity to the degree Berhalter did.
This isn't to diminish Magee's save on Lenhart, as close as we'll get in MLS this year to Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star. But if that sequence happens in minute forty-nine instead of minute eighty-nine, eventually Magee and the Galaxy crack. (In fairness, Tally Hall's save was better technically.)
As for what it means in the long run? Well, Nick Green fears the worst:
I disagree. The Galaxy showed amazing poise and unity, when they would have been completely forgiven for losing by several goals. This was the performance that gives a team confidence and chemistry. It was only a 0-0 draw, but what an accomplishment. And it was done without either of their designated players. To me, that says this team is capable of a championship. We'll see how well they rally around Brian Perk.
What do you mean, they have three? Beckham, Donovan, and who else? Ricketts isn't a DP.
And I can't believe neutral fans, who thought they were simply whiling away the time before the Gold Cup Final, weren't sucked into the drama. How long could the Galaxy hold out? The Quakes must score! Why aren't they going forward? Oh, did you see that horse-collar Berhalter put on Lenhart! If this isn't the 0-0 game you put on ESPN Classic, well, it's because Fox Soccer owns the rights to it and shouldn't give it away for less than a truckload of money.
(Of course, if promotion and relegation had been at stake, the game would have been MUCH more exciting.)
As far as San Jose - well, if Yallop's post-game interview doesn't have you shuddering, check out Lenhart's:
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq61Xp0nGdQ"]YouTube - Steven Lenhart post-game interview June 25, 2011 following 0-0 draw with LA Galaxy[/ame]
Usually, when a team craps away a huge advantage, it's a sign there are serious, wide-ranging problems that have no easy, short-term solution. Chris Wondolowski coming back isn't going to save things, not after a performance like this.
The sad thing is, that sell-out crowd expected and deserved so much more. This wasn't the historic, exciting 0-0 game that wins fans for the home team, to say the least. Maybe San Jose can get away with junk like this when are averaging 20,000 fans a game in their own stadium, but not before.
This was a team that was supposed to contend. This was a semifinalist last year. Now look at them. It's time for serious changes.
Of course, it's six days later, and Frank Yallop is still employed, and Lenhart hasn't been sold to the Bermuda Hogges, so Quakes fans shouldn't be optimistic. Not to encourage anything, but if San Jose fans decided to go River Plate on their front office, I wouldn't be surprised.