It was inevitable. It had to happen. There was no chance the Earthquakes were going to be denied. It was destiny.
Even as the Chicago bench pleaded for the final whistle, it was clear the evening would not have been complete without a Steven Lenhart equalizing goal. Nearly a quarter of the crowd that packed Buck Shaw Stadium, adorned with curly blonde wigs that honored the golden locks of their home town hero, waited anxiously to witness Lenny score. That the San Jose Earthquakes had been stymied at every opportunity over 90 minutes by the resolute goalkeeping of Chicago’s Sean Johnson only served to add more urgency to the affair.
But then, a proverbial lifeline was handed the Quakes by the sideline referee, who strode to the centerline and held aloft a LED board displaying a large block number 5. Five more minutes of stoppage time, a minimum of 300 seconds to complete a fairy tale ending for Lenhart and the Earthquakes, a last ditch chance to add to the mystic of their 2012 season with another improbable comeback.
The Fire endured 5 minutes, then 6 minutes, finally a 7th minute of added time, and with just a few moments of necessary defense to complete their victory, they capitulated to the one man that had to beat them. With the clock reading 7:09 past the conclusion of the prescribed 90 minutes, Lenhart, in the words of Quakes play-by-play stand-in Dan Dibley, delivered "an atomic blast" that prompted "blond-haired bedlam at Buck Shaw." The improbable comeback to take a point against Chicago, an effort seemingly left for dead, had its inevitable conclusion. The "never say die" Earthquakes and their fans celebrated through the sound of the final whistle and well into the San Jose night.
While the South Bay was riveted by the Lenhart heroics, the Chicagoan faithful fumed at the injustice of seeing their side stripped of an apparent victory over the league leading Quakes. The announcement of five minutes of stoppage time was bad enough, but how could one explain the home side getting extended help to equalize in the 8th minute past regulation? If ever a conspiratorial explanation was warranted, seeing the Fire lose out on a valuable three points in such controversial manner seemed to fit it to a T.
However, perhaps all the occurred at Buck Shaw was not as sinister as it appeared. The 5 minutes of stoppage time and the 3 minutes it was extended seem to be valid on second look. Referee Chris Penso, derided following the final whistle by Chicago fans, was only following the rules of the game. No, the San Jose Earthquakes didn’t earn any favors, they just took full advantage of the time afforded them. Any claimed histrionics associated with faulty time-keeping are pure fantasy.
How was this possible? Follow the breakdown of the second half after the break:
In charting the second half of the Earthquakes 1-1 draw against the Fire, and keeping careful track of stoppages of play brought about due to injury and substitution, the total amount of extra time called for by Penso and his refereeing corps was nearly on the money. What follows are the breaks in play according the game clock as bracketed by the whistle of Penso over the last half of the match:
48:10 — 48:52 Rafael Baca is felled by a ball that deflects off his mid region and goes out for a Chicago corner kick (running total of qualifying stoppage time = :42).
53:31 — 54:18 Yellow card awarded to Alan Gordon for a tough tackle on Pavel Pardo near the center circle (1:29).
58:59 — 59:20 Lenhart enters the game in place of Baca (1:50).
63:15 — 63:46 Sherjill MacDonald makes his Chicago Fire and MLS debut replacing Dominic Oduro (2:21).
67:44 — 68:07 Lenhart with a tough tackle on Arne Friedrich keeps the German on the ground in some pain (2:44).
69:03 — 69:36 Dan Gargan earns a yellow card for a tripping foul against Shea Salinas (3:17).
69:46 — 71:58 Lenhart’s attempted acrobatic shot on goal results in a follow-through boot to the head of Patrick Nyarko. Sam Garza enters the game for Jed Zayner during the time that Nyarko is being attended to (5:29).
79:16 — 79:59 Victor Bernardez leaves the field with an apparent hamstring injury (6:12).
80:20 — 80:29 Ike Opara replaces the injured Bernardez (6:21).
81:36 — 82:10 Alex leaves the game for Hunter Jumper (6:55).
87:38 — 88:42 Fire goal scorer Chris Rolfe exit the game in favor of Daniel Paladini. Meanwhile, Johnson and Lenhart have a meet-and-greet ahead of a Chicago goal kick (7:59).
One second short of an even 8 minutes of running clock that was whistled dead by referee Penso transpired over the second half before fourth official Alejandro Mariscal displayed the digital board indicating a minimum of 5 minutes of stoppage time.
Where does 5 minutes come from if there was 8 minutes of stopped play in the second half? The MLS Competition Rules and Regulations, as posted on MLSsoccer.com, have a somewhat vague guideline when it comes to adding extra time at the end of halves.
GAME CLOCK: The official game time for all Major League Soccer games will be managed on the field by the referee. If necessary, the referee may also allot extra time (a.k.a. "stoppage time”) at the end of each period (first half, second half, and if applicable, first overtime period and second overtime period during playoff matches) to allow for injuries, time-wasting or other disturbances.
The italicized list at the end of the passage was added for emphasis, and also to point out that play stopped to allow for substitutions is not specifically called out in the extra time criteria, but time-wasting on substitutions or otherwise is. While not every second of stopped play is added on at the end of halves, 5 minutes was a reasonable amount given the number of times and nearly 8 minutes that play was suspended.
But Lenhart scored in the 8th minute of stoppage time, so what happened to allow that to stand? Well, even in added time, play was whistled dead for a crucial three minute period in which a second yellow card offense on Gordon was awarded for a crushing tackle on Fire defender Gargan while going for a 50/50 ball in the Chicago area.
91:52 — 95:01 Gordon is sent off for the second yellow, and Gargan receives extensive treatment from the Fire trainers. Quakes coach Frank Yallop is ejected from the stadium for flinging a water bottle holder onto the field in protest — a move he later quipped was intended to provide a dehydrated Salinas with water — and the referees confer over the incident. Gargan is slowly assisted to the sideline before Penso resumes play (3:09).
Two minutes after the restart, a long ball from Salinas is floated into the area for Chris Wondolowski to chest pass into the path of Lenhart. The second half substitute celebrates "Steven Lenhart Wig Night" in style by blasting home the equalizer at the 7:09 mark. The Fire kick-off 48 seconds later, and the referee blows the match over with 8:08 on the clock — almost to the second the time that elapsed during the Gordon ejection/Gargan injury incident.
Chicago Fire fans flooded Twitter timelines with furious complaints at the result. Head coach Frank Klopas claimed it was a "harsh" to end the game that way. San Jose and Lenhart supporters simply called it destiny. And whether you agree or disagree with the clock management of referee Penso, a breakdown of the second half stoppages of play, as well as during stoppage time, suggest that perhaps he got it right.