SEATTLE – The last time Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam took a red card, Fredy Montero was the team’s striker, Kasey Keller the goalkeeper, Lamar Neagle was a rookie and present-day defender Nouhou had just turned 14 in Cameroon.
Leerdam was playing for Feyenoord in the Dutch Eredivisie that September 2011 day, and he’d go another 151 regular season, playoff and Champions League appearances between that second career ejection and the one he took in Saturday night’s loss to Montreal. The Sounders were understandably stunned to see the 11th-year professional get tossed for face-slapping Impact defender Daniel Lovitz, while Leerdam admitted on Tuesday it was out of character and should not have happened.
“It was a stupid red card,” Leerdam said. “We’re all professionals and we know it happens. I know myself when I make a mistake. I don’t really need somebody to tell me that.”
Leerdam insists he wasn’t trying to slap anyone and that the move was more reflexive than reactionary when he saw Lovitz’s hand coming toward him in his peripheral vision. But he also knows that soccer’s rules are adamant that – slap, punch or love tap – you can’t put your hand on an opponent’s face.
“You put your team in a tough spot, especially in the position that we’re in,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and talk and try to make myself look good. It happened.”
Leerdam said he apologized to his teammates and to coach Brian Schmetzer afterward. As a veteran with overseas experience, Leerdam says he tries to lead by example and that this was the first time he’d ever been ejected for anything violent and away from the play.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “It’s not like I have a history of hitting people or kicking people.”
He and Lovitz had both challenged for a ball in the air when Leerdam pulled back at the last instant and struck his opponent’s body instead. Lovitz went tumbling to the ground, got up angrily afterward and pursued Leerdam near the far sideline.
As he stepped forward, Lovitz reached out with his hand and appeared to shove Leerdam’s chest – which drew the reaction and the hand to his face. Leerdam said he wasn’t trying to take out Lovitz’s body on the ball in the air and just failed to pull completely away in time.
The aftermath of this Leerdam red card wasn’t as bad as his first career ejection in 2010, His Feyenoord team was down only 1-0 to PSV Eindhoven when Leerdam was tossed in the 37th minute for taking a second yellow card, but went on to lose 10-0.
Still, regardless of the better score this time, the injury-depleted Sounders, now 0-3 and without a goal scored this season, can’t afford any more of their good players getting sent off and suspended.
This was the third consecutive red card taken by them in those three regular season games. Tony Alfaro took one in the closing minutes of a season-opening 1-0 loss to Los Angeles FC and hampered any late comeback effort, while Clint Dempsey’s 37th minute ejection at FC Dallas killed any Sounders momentum in a 3-0 defeat.
Leerdam’s red card came in the 40th minute of a scoreless game. Montreal scored in the second half and the Sounders, despite threatening many times, failed to score the equalizer while shorthanded.
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said Tuesday the team’s goal-scoring woes can be partly attributed to not coming out strongly enough and taking play to opponents. Too may times, he added, the Sounders seemed almost lackadaisical in possessing the ball without making any serious attempts to score.
Leerdam, for his part, suggested opponents also seem more amped-up for the two-time defending MLS Cup finalists and prepared to try to throw them off their game. He said the coaching staff has since addressed the team about the plethora of red cards and keeping not just their cool, but their awareness of getting drawn into situations where video review can catch infractions.
The previous match, a frustrated looking Leerdam was issued a yellow card for standing over an opponent and shouting at him as he lay on the ground. Going back to last season, especially with midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro taking an onslaught of behind-the-play physical abuse, teams seem to be trying to distract the Sounders or goad them into retaliating.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of red cards – maybe six or seven,” Leerdam said. “Of course, they want aggression but this is aggression in the wrong way.”
Schmetzer reiterated Tuesday that players can’t keep taking themselves out of games this way.
“We don’t want to be that team that continuously gets red cards for those types of incidents,” he said.
As bad a hole as Leerdam dug for his squad, Schmetzer said their play at full strength in the opening 40 minutes was itself disappointing and concerning.
“We looked like a team that maybe wasn’t all on the same page,” he said. “And that falls on the coaching staff’s shoulders and we’re going to try to correct that.”
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