After 63 minutes Saturday night, Steven Lenhart had had enough.
The San Jose Earthquakes forward bounced off the turf at Red Bull Arena and started counting on his fingers in front of referee Jose Carlos Rivero, documenting the instances of abuse that he felt he’d suffered at the hands of New York Red Bulls center backs Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya.
By the time Lenhart got to 10, Rivero had brandished a yellow card – which hadn’t been shown to any New York player to that point – in response.
In the end, Lenhart had the last laugh, breaking through against a physical New York defense in the 85th minute for his first league goal of the season, salvaging a 1-1 draw for the Quakes. But San Jose coach Mark Watson was still left to wonder just how much punishment his target forward has to take before it merits a booking for the opposition.
“I thought it was excessive to the point of being unfair,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com on Monday, regarding the challenges Lenhart received. “He was fouled repeatedly, and [there were] some bad fouls. It was into the second half before someone got booked for it. I thought there could have been a little bit more help protecting Steven.”
Rivero did eventually hand out yellows to four Red Bulls, including three – one to Olave – for persistent infringement or hard tackles. And New York were called for 21 fouls to San Jose’s seven. Nevertheless, a whole highlight reel could be made of teeth-rattling hits Lenhart suffered, many with his back to the opposing player.
“The punishment Lenny took from [Olave] was unbelievable,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch marveled to MLSsoccer.com.
Some might say the table was set for such a display on the previous weekend, when D.C. United defender Bobby Boswell delivered a knee to Lenhart’s back in United’s 2-1 victory against San Jose. No card was given at the time, and no further action was taken by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
Did those decisions make it open season on Lenhart?
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“I hope not,” Watson said. “But I’ve seen it quite a few times, where there’s been some bad fouls and they’re not called. … You just hope that the game is called fairly and the same level of protection for the players applies to both teams.”
The Quakes are also hoping that Lenhart’s goal – a sideways blast off the bounce after settling Atiba Harris’ deflected shot – will be just the first of many as San Jose try to dig their way out of last place in the Western Conference.
“I’ve seen him for the last three years,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “He takes a beating every game. But one thing is, he always gets back up and does it again. That’s why I have so much love and respect for him: He keeps going.”