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.