More than once, twice, or even three times this past year, Steven Lenhart has been called out by fans and media alike for the antics and attitude that keeps giving San Jose a bad name.
Let's face it: Style aside, the San Jose Earthquakes are not particularly unlikeable. Alan Gordon is a few french fries short of a happy meal (to put it politely), but other than that I don't find much to personally dislike about the Quakes. Their style might not please you but, as players, they are generally okay.
However, all that changes once you put Steven Lenhart on the field. With Lenhart on the field, the San Jose Earthquakes instantly become one of the teams that I dislike the most, and the blame for that usually falls to Lenhart. There is no team I can think of (now with Rafa Marquez gone) that has become as synonymous with ugly fouls as San Jose.
Go on. Try and name a team that has a man who can create headlines (the negative sort) and havoc every time he steps out onto the field. Look at this replay and try and rationalize his actions.
I can understand though why some supporters might think that his behavior is acceptable, as Lenhart is a hockey bruiser. Hard contact is expected and even enjoyed by the fans and players. Teams hire players like Lenhart to intimidate the opposition and ---
Wait... what are you saying? This isn't the NHL? Oh. Nevermind then.
I have seen Quakes fans say soccer is a "contact sport" and that these sort of things are the things winners do, or that they're to be expected in some way. That's an insane assertion, and one I shouldn't have to explain to anyone. A player should never be expected to be kicked in the face, or elbowed in the ribs. A player should never have to watch out for the bully on the field.
I have seen Quakes fans say his behavior doesn't have to change, but that he does have to "stop the antics". The problem is that his antics are part of his behavior. You cannot separate one from the other. It's bad enough that he throws elbows and kicks out willy-nilly while tackling or when he has possession, but then you see his off the ball stuff and it becomes absolutely inexcusable.
Even Frank Yallop cannot defend him any further, and Yallop has been one of his staunchest supporters. Yallop told mlssoccer.com:
"I'm 100 percent behind [Lenhart], but he has to change ....and I think he knows it. I know it. The team needs him to change."
MLS is a bit late to the party by banning Lenhart two games, but it's a step in the right direction. His unsportsmanlike conduct won't "embarrass the league" though. That's a phrase that's prone to over-usage and it's bandied about every time angry fans hyperventilate about the next Big Bad. What it does do is make his own team look bad by association and it's something honest and upstanding San Jose fans don't want.
Alan Gordon rightfully knew his slur was wrong and quickly and repeatedly apologized. Lenhart however, continues his journey to lash out at every player in MLS and shows no signs of slowing down. He never looks or acts apologetic and has done nothing to curb his actions.
There's nothing wrong with getting under people's skin, but usually that involves words, glares or some hard challenges. It doesn't involve hitting people when the referee isn't looking, putting your elbows in someone's face, or sliding wildly at someone's ankles.
It's a good thing that MLS is cracking down on these sorts of stunts. If Lenhart crosses the line one more time, the Disciplinary Committee should throw the book at him. A player cannot keep engaging in childish, bully-esque tactics and have a place in our league.
Shape up or ship out.