White Men Can Dive

Is there a stigma placed on Latino players and simulation?
by Chris Enger   |   Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Roger Levesque 2011 "Diver" Goal Celebration for Seattle Sounders

I don’t mean to go all Matthew McConaughey from A Time to Kill on everyone, but I need you to close your eyes and let me describe a situation.

I want you to imagine there is a hotly contested soccer match. During the run of play in this game, an attacking player falls down theatrically in the penalty box and starts reaching for his face and ankle at the same time. The player, through simulation, earns a penalty kick which wins the game for his club.

Now, imagine the forward is white.

How many of you imagined the player was from a South American country?

Is there a stigma associated with Latin American players who as Ra’s Al Ghul would put it, “have a flair for the theatrical”?

Yes, I know I’ve always joked about simulation coming from players south of Texas and any country touching the Mediterranean Sea. However, unless you are a fan from a rival squad, there isn’t the same amount of scrutiny placed on diving players from the United States.

Exhibit A: Steven Lenhart v Alvaro Fernandez

Two Saturdays ago, San Jose visited Seattle and in the 21st minute Steven Lenhart got his legs caught up with a Sounder defender. Lenhart fell, arms flailing as he went to turf, and he earned his team a very questionable penalty. The Quakes won the game based on that penalty call and Chris Wondowlowski’s conversion of the ensuing kick.

Compare with Alvaro Fernandez on March 23rd against Houston. In the 82nd minute Fernandez ran into a Houston defender and went down in a fashion very reminiscent of Lenhart. A free kick was earned. The game was already in Seattle’s favor so the free kick did not decide the outcome of the match.

Fernandez was fined.

Lenhart was not.

Why? What was the difference?

Try as I might, I can’t see the difference between the two. Both should have been fined based on the standard set last year.

What’s interesting to note here is RSL’s Alvaro Saborio is still the only MLS player to be retroactively fined AND suspended for simulation. Saborio was criticized throughout the remainder of the season for that one play, and still is today.

Yet, the grief given to US-based players for diving pales in comparison to the criticism that is laid at the feet of Latin American players. The only US player to be hounded for theatrical soccer was Charlie Davies and that only came after his repeated offenses kept earning his team point-winning-penalties.

The reason why we are even talking about retroactively penalizing and suspending simulation is because of Davies, and yet we still criticize the Flacos and Saborios of the league for their style of play when they are still trying to adapt to the new rules in MLS.

As Fernandez said:

“down in South America, we work on getting an advantage out of every situation that we can -- no matter what that is. It's not looked upon badly.”

That’s the way he’s always played and now he needs to “roll with it.”

What’s Lenhart’s excuse? Unfortunately, with the penalty call earned, and with MLS issuing no resulting fine or suspension, he has become enabled in his style of play and will continue doing what he does until the league fines him like they did with Fernandez.

MLS as well as its fans tend to come down harder on the Fernandezes and Saborios of the league and give the Lenharts and Caseys a pass for the same type of embellishment.

All I ask is for consistency.


Univ. of Utah
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KoS & SN Podcast co-host & self-proclaimed funniest man in Utah. Mormon by faith, Ute by geography, Gooner by accident & proud RSLer. Father of 4, husband of 1, brother of many. Bilingual by day, quasi superhero en la noche. There's only one "Fuegote".