When you’re winless for six weeks, frustration comes easy to a professional soccer team. Add in a dubious red card that leads directly to a 4-0 defeat, and things really get combustible.
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That’s how the San Jose Earthquakes’ trip to Rio Tinto Stadium ended Saturday night. After an hour of bending but not breaking — thanks most of all to more strong work from goalkeeper Jon Busch — the Quakes’ hopes of pulling out a point or three went up in flames with one toot from the whistle of referee David Gantar.
Gantar ruled Quakes defender Bobby Burling knocked down Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío inside the penalty box in the 60th minute even though replays appeared to show little contact between the two players.
Burling was given straight red. Saborío was given a penalty, which he converted to break open what had been a scoreless tie. Salt Lake were given a chance to pump home three more goals in rapid succession against 10-man San Jose.
The Quakes, already on a 0-2-5 streak since their last victory on June 11, were given to seething.
“It’s up to the referee to make sure it is a penalty kick,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “That changed the game — red card, penalty, goal. You’re screwed after that. ... It all hinges on one play, and that’s frustrating for us.”
Chris Wondolowski, who wore the captain's armband for San Jose on Saturday night, argued forcefully with Gantar and an assistant referee just after the call, to no avail. A few minutes later, Busch was caught by television cameras yelling an expletive while also making a rude hand gesture at someone — presumably Gantar — off screen.
To cap the night, as he was leaving the pitch after the final whistle, Busch had a brief tête-a-tête with RSL coach Jason Kreis. Busch waved a finger to drive home his point to Kreis, who immediately charged after San Jose’s keeper and had to be restrained by another RSL employee.
“I asked [Kreis] what he wanted to do for dinner afterwards,” Busch claimed later. “I wanted pizza, he wanted steak.”
That was one of few moments of levity on the evening for San Jose (5-7-9), who ran fresh out of center backs. Ike Opara has been hurt for weeks, Jason Hernandez was a last-second scratch due to injury, Nana Attakora went out in the 54th minute after an apparent right ankle problem and Burling obviously hit the showers early.
Brad Ring, normally a holding midfielder, and Chris Leitch, a right back by trade, finished up in the middle of Yallop’s defense.
“Never have I been this frustrated and there’s nothing I can do, which makes it even more frustrating,” Ring said on Twitter. “I’m in shock, head spinning, furious.”
The Quakes were not shy about calling Saborío out for what they considered a bald-faced dive. Burling and Busch both said they expected Gantar to show the Costa Rican international yellow for simulation.
“The guy actually could have shot before he fell down, if he wanted to, because he cut back against two defenders,” Busch said. “Neither Bobby nor Brad touched him at all. Whatsoever.”
Said new Quakes midfielder Jacob Peterson, also via Twitter: “Diving ruins the game. Has to be punished harshly. [T]he only way to get rid of it is suspending guys. [For] such a good player it’s a disgrace.”
It was highly unlikely that the Quakes were going to be able to snatch a road victory Saturday, given that three of their best options at forward — Simon Dawkins, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon — were unavailable and San Jose, playing for the third time in eight days, were facing a rested Salt Lake team coming off a two-week break.
That didn’t dissipate the feelings engendered by the controversial call, however.
“I felt tonight like we were unjustly done,” Busch said. “As it went on, especially when we’re defending corner kicks, guys are getting shoved all over the place. Wondo got shoved twice, with two hands, and one time [RSL defender Jámison] Olave gets a good header.
“You just get frustrated because the referee needs to see that stuff. And he’s not seeing it. And that’s what makes you frustrated, because everyone else can see a clear push or clear foul, and the guy who needs to see it doesn’t.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes