Is Steven Lenhart the Dennis Rodman of Major League Soccer?

Following Sunday night’s 2-2 draw between Los Angeles and San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium, Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez made some unusually pointed comments to the league website about the physical style of San Jose in general and Quakes striker Steven Lenhart in particular:

“I think those guys are a bunch of jokes, the way they play the game. It was just obnoxious. And, you know, it wasn’t even fun out there. It was terrible.”

Gonzalez continued, zeroing in on a play where he and Lenhart had contact and Gonzalez was whistled for a foul that led to a free-kick goal by Marvin Chavez in the 60th minute:

“I would say it was a foul on me—like I got fouled. Because my eyes were directly on the ball, and I’m just running back and, all of a sudden, I got hit. But Jair [Marrufo, the referee] said I fell on him.”

That’s a scenario that will ring a bell with Real Salt Lake fans. Check out this play from earlier in the season, when Lenhart vied for a ball over the top with RSL center back Jamison Olave:

Kind of reminds us of this, from Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Finals:

But back to LA’s Gonzalez, who was just getting warmed up with the comments above. He went on:

“It all starts when the ball’s on the other side of the field, and you’re just running and all of a sudden you get blindsided. You just get checked by Lenhart or something. It’s just dumb s*** like that happens every time, and that’s not the way the game should be played. It’s embarrassing.”

Of course Lenhart’s shenanigans, like Rodman’s back in the day, are not limited to off-the-ball provocations. Sometimes he’ll pull a prank in full view of everyone, and get away with it:

That one kind of reminds us of this less successful stunt by Rodman:

As for the San Jose camp, Quakes coach Frank Yallop wasn’t fazed by Gonzalez’s comments. Here he is yesterday, on ExtraTime Radio:

“He’s entitled to his opinion. But we go about business like we do. Do I want our players fouling and playing dirty? No, I don’t. But hey, it’s give-and-take. He can make his comments, whatever he wants to say about our team. But I will say that we try hard. We give 100% every time we step on the field and yesterday was no different….

“It’s for other people to judge us. And I’m not saying his comments are wrong. Because obviously, he’s free to make his own judgment. But we just go about business like we do, and hopefully it’s enough to go all the way this year.”

Regarding the Quakes’ style and other accusations of off-the-ball gamesmanship, Yallop ignored the gamesmanship part, but said that he’s always liked playing with a target forward, from Ronald Cerritos to Brian Ching to his current tandem of Lenhart and Alan Gordon. The Quakes’ style, he said, speaks for itself:

“People talk about our style—scoring 70-odd goals is a pretty good style.”

San Jose leads the league with 71 goals scored, 20 more than the nearest competitor.

If Gonzalez and Los Angeles can get by sub-.500 Vancouver in the play-in game, they’ll meet San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals.

MLS fans can only hope that matchup happens.

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We Just Had a Twitter Dustup with Eric Wynalda

Earlier this afternoon, we came across the following Tweet from National Soccer Hall of Famer and Fox broadcaster Eric Wynalda:

@Wynalda11: I wanna go on the record and announce that I was a HORRIBLE soccer player. Can I now be considered for an MLS coaching position?

Now, Wynalda’s desire to become a head coach has been common knowledge for some time. We interpreted his Tweet as a dig at former MLSers Jay Heaps and Jesse Marsch, both of whom were recently hired as MLS head coaches with little (Marsch) to no (Heaps) previous coaching experience.

Sure, neither Heaps nor Marsch had as distinguished a playing career as Wynalda, who was the alltime leading scorer for the USMNT until 2008, and who scored this goal, which we contend is one of the best, and most important, goals in US Soccer history.

But Waldo’s comment struck us as an unfair shot at the two new hires, who were solid American players. So we Retweeted it with the following hashtag: #sourgrapes?

Apparently the Twitter mic was on, because Wynalda’s response was immediate:

@JohnEM12: sour grapes? What are you an idiot?

We were taken aback at the swiftness and severity of the reply (and the fact that a US Soccer legend had directly asked us if we were “an idiot”), but we pulled together the following response:

@Wynalda11: My wife says yes, yes I am. But can you clarify your tweet?

Then we waited—and waited—for a response. Nothing.

We were just about to forget about it, but then, on Wynalda’s feed, we noticed the following Tweet, directed at someone named LAKingsJunkie:

@LAKingsJunkie: yeah, that came off wrong. We are all idiots when it comes to wives. I meant, of course I am bitter.

Now, you have to keep in mind, Wynalda has more than 5,000 Twitter followers (we have literally dozens), and he’s constantly bantering with them. Could he have posted his second reply to the wrong person?

The more we thought about it, the more the answer seemed to be yes.

The Tweet was not connected to a previous conversation between him and the LAKingsJunkie person (we checked), and look at the reference to “idiots” and “wives”—that couldn’t be a coincidence. It’s gotta be a response to our comment.

And then there’s the final sentence: He’s bitter that guys like Heaps and Marsch are walking into coaching jobs almost immediately after hanging up their boots while he’s had no luck landing one.

So even though he accidentally sent it to the wrong person, we still got his clarification.

Thanks Waldo.

Unless of course our deductive reasoning is faulty here.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Red Bulls Lose Match, Draw Postgame Donnybrook

The Red Bulls gave up a 15th-minute goal to former New York attacker Mike Magee, and despite a furious effort, could not find an equalizer over the remaining 75 minutes, falling 1-0 to Los Angeles in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series at Red Bull Arena yesterday afternoon.

The Galaxy backline, ably anchored by keeper Josh Saunders—who made five saves, three of them outstanding ones—bent but did not break and succeeded in frustrating New York.

Most frustrated of all was midfielder Rafa Marquez, who had a point blank volley stuffed by Saunders in stoppage time, and then boiled over after the final whistle. The Mexico captain fired the game ball at Landon Donovan as the LA midfielder walked near midfield, sparking a full-blown fracas near the halfway line.

Marquez and Galaxy midfielder Juninho were red-carded for their roles in the dustup, and will miss the second leg on Thursday. We’d say that’s a push in terms of personnel losses for the two sides.

Here’s the incident:

(We enjoyed Harkes‘s “maybe a fly went into his eye” comment.)

And here are the very entertaining match highlights:

The return leg should be something to see, that much you can be sure of. It’s on Thursday at 11:00 pm ET on ESPN2.

We put on our MLS press fedora and went into the Galaxy locker room after the game to get some quotes on both the melee and the performance of LA keeper  Saunders.

Donovan told us some very interesting things. Go check them out here, and see here for the Galaxy’s take on Saunders’ game-saving turn between the pipes.

The New York–LA clash led a pretty spectacular weekend of MLS playoff action, including more feistiness in Philly, a shocker in Salt Lake, and a freakish plague of injuries in Colorado. Catch up on all of that right here.

Quote of the Day

Ryan Toohey, spokesman for recently suspended interim CONCACAF president Lisle Austin (above), on reports that FIFA had extended Austin’s ban worldwide:

“Mr. Austin has not been notified of any action by FIFA regarding any suspension. There is no existing suspension so there is nothing to extend. Lisle Austin remains acting president of CONCACAF, and has urged FIFA to intervene and resolve these so-called leadership questions.”

When last we left this spellbinding tale, Austin had fired CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, only to see Blazer immediately reinstated by the confederation’s Executive Committee. The committee then suspended Austin, and installed Honduras’s Alfredo Hawit as acting president of CONCACAF.

That’s where we stand now (well, all of us outside Austin’s camp). But there are sure to be further twists in the tale before the Gold Cup final on June 25.

FIFA Farce, Day 4: Blazer Fired, Unfired

Oh, it's on....

CONCACAF appointed an interim president in the wake of Jack Warner’s recent suspension, and that fella—who hails from Barbados and is called Lisle Austin—took it upon himself yesterday to “fire” Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary of CONCACAF who made allegations of bribery against Warner and former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.

Austin faxed a dismissal letter to Blazer’s Zurich hotel room, citing “inexcusable” conduct and “a gross misconduct of duty and of judgment” as reasons for the action.

Within hours, though, CONCACAF called Austin’s play an “unauthorized declaration” and published the following statement on its website:

“This attempted action was taken without any authority. Under the CONCACAF Statutes, jurisdiction over the General Secretary rests solely with the CONCACAF Executive Committee, which has taken no action. Further, a majority of the Executive Committee Members have advised Mr. Austin that he does not have the authority to take such action.

“Chuck Blazer continues as CONCACAF General Secretary and with the full authority of his office. The Confederation continues its normal operations including the Gold Cup commencing on June 5th at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.”

Today, Austin sowed further confusion by firing back, through Warner’s media service in Port of Spain, Trinidad, with the following:

“The statement released by the CONCACAF Media Department last night as it relates to the status of the former General Secretary Chuck Blazer are not the official views of CONCACAF.

“This is yet another blatant disregard for process and procedure by the former staff member.”

Austin went on to imply that Blazer himself published the statement on CONCACAF’s website, since he “was [is?] one of the administrators of the servers used by the CONCACAF department and has access to it and presently still has access to all of the Confederation’s online service.”

Here’s an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise: the story as reported in Warner’s home country, in the Trinidad Express, versus The New York Times account.

CONCACAF’s premier tournament, the Gold Cup, kicks off on Saturday, and amid all the uncertainty, one thing’s for sure: The final trophy presentation is going to be very interesting.

Both Warner and Sepp Blatter were present for the 2009 edition.

Speaking of Blatter, see here for the latest on today’s presidential election.

Foxes Investigate FIFA Henhouse; Blatter Cleared, Bin Hammam and Warner Suspended

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was cleared of wrongdoing by an ethics panel Sunday, paving the way for him to run unopposed for a fourth term in Wednesday’s election.

Executive committee members Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar were both suspended indefinitely in the wake of accusations that they offered $40,000 apiece to roughly 24 federation officials from the Caribbean in exchange for their votes for bin Hammam as FIFA president.

(Bin Hammam withdrew from the election before the panel convened, and he accused Blatter of knowing about and not opposing the alleged payments, hence Blatter’s appearance before the panel.)

Neither bin Hammam nor Warner was found guilty in the investigation, but both are suspended from any involvement with soccer until a full judicial inquiry can be staged.

Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who oversaw the inquiry, said that the suspensions were necessary to “ensure that the investigation [pending; likely in July] is not compromised.”

No word on whether this statement was met by snickers, but plenty of comments at Blatter’s Monday press conference in Zurich were. A quick sampler, courtesy of The New York Times:

“I am the president of FIFA; you cannot question me.”

(Actual quote. No, really.)

“I believe that the decision which we took for World Cup 2022 was done exactly clean in the same pattern and again I say what I said at beginning of press conference there is no issue for the World Cup 2022.”

(This one prompted such a reaction from the assembled media that Blatter followed it up with: “We are not in a bazaar here, we are in FIFA House.”)

“Something has changed in FIFA and we will try to change more in future. I cannot change members of my government, it is not up to me.”

Blatter pleaded for respect over the reporter grumblings that followed that one, then abruptly pulled the plug on the press conference, walking offstage as journalists tried to lob more questions his way.

Good times.

Other Juicy Bits From the Fallout

• “Why should I be hanged now, and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer, John Collins? Give me a break, guys. I will hold my head high to the very end. I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing.”

—ExCo member and CONCACAF president Jack Warner, speaking in the Trinidad Parliament on the eve of the ethics panel.

Merriam Webster has announced they will replace their current definition of the word chutzpah with the above.

Also, apparently, the word “American” is an insult in Trinidad and Tobago.

• There were two cases before the panel on Sunday. One involved bribery surrounding Wednesday’s FIFA presidential election, the other concerned vote-selling for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

In the latter, two FIFA ExCo members were suspended and four were cleared, due to insufficient evidence.

Among the cleared, our favorite was Nicolás Léoz of Paraguay, who (allegedly) requested both an honorary knighthood and that the FA Cup be named after him in exchange for voting for England’s 2018 bid.

That is just fantastic, and we applaud the imagination involved.

But there are some logistical issues. How, for example, would both honors be explained? Oh, yeah, this Paraguayan bureaucrat has been integral to English football and culture since way, way back in the day. We need to get that guy knighted, or at the very least, rename our 140-year-old domestic competition in his honor—stat. The British people will instantly recognize both honors as long overdue.

Finally, there was the following sensational statement from Blatter in his column on Inside World Football:

“When a Swiss farmer’s neighbor has a cow while he has none, the less fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well. When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbor does, that farmer will kill the neighbor’s cow out of sheer malice.

“I’d rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not.”

On an island, say, ….”  Sepp—very subtle. Jack Warner lives on an island, doesn’t he?

Well, the island farmer was talking tough after Sunday’s hearing, promising that a “tsunami” of bad news would be visited upon FIFA in the coming weeks.

In any event, it’s on to Wednesday’s “election,” over the objection of British sports minister Hugh Robertson, who, according to the Times, has called on FIFA to suspend the vote, saying, “I think the process is fast descending into farce.”

Luke Rodgers Embraces the New York Media Fishbowl

You may have noticed Red Bulls striker Luke Rodgers jawing with Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan during last Saturday’s meeting between the MLS conference leaders at the Home Depot Center.

Here’s the replay:

Afterward, Rodgers spoke to the New York Post about his little chat with Donovan, using, according to Post writer Brian Lewis, “multiple different terms to liken [Donovan] to male genitalia.

A sampling:

“ ‘The kid’s a (genitalia)head. I don’t care. I just think the kid’s a (friggin’ jerk). I don’t care what you put,’ said Rodgers, [making it] clear that his views were his views, and he didn’t care if they were printed, blogged or tweeted.”

We’re trying to think of a comparable situation in reverse. Let’s say, oh, Plymouth Argyle’s Anton Peterlin, an American player who never got so much as a sniff of the U.S. top flight (Rodgers came to RBNY from third-tier Notts County), somehow landed at Manchester City, got in a game against Manchester United and then sparked an altercation with Wayne Rooney, telling a London tabloid afterward that Rooney was a d***head and a jerk.

Not really a parallel comparison you say? True, Rooney has never scored in a World Cup, while Donovan has five World Cup goals. And Rooney did f*** all in the 2010 tournament (to use the Rodgers-esque British terminology) while Donovan sparked the U.S. comeback against Slovenia with a crucial goal, then sent the Americans to the knockout phase—and the top of Group C, over England—with an iconic strike against Algeria.

Sure, the comparison is not perfect, but apart from Rooney’s glaring inferiority on the international stage, we’d say it’s pretty analogous.*

Donovan, for his part, kept his response brief and to the point, posting the following to his Twitter feed on Monday: “I’m confused, who is Luke Rogers [sic]?

* Note: see here.