Life in general was proceeding rather predictably Tuesday when the first-place Wood River High School boys’ varsity soccer team hosted the last-place Twin Falls Bruins in a Great Basin Conference match on the Hailey field.
Wood River head coach Luis Monjaras managed to use all 22 of his players during the first half in building a 2-0 lead over a determined but outmatched Twin Falls squad that had been unable to score in its past four games while yielding 13 goals.
Hailey senior striker Alex Lopez, a gifted scorer, found the proper angle after a lead pass from Eron Bates and made it 1-0 at 11 minutes. Heriberto Mendoza chipped a pass ahead to junior Keegan Heneghan, who tapped home his first varsity goal shortly afterward.
Early in the second half, three-year varsity player and last year’s top scorer Lopez scored on a breakaway for his first-ever two-goal game as a Wolverine, stretching the Hailey lead to 3-0. The south breeze was fresh, erasing the smoke, and all things pointed to an uneventful finish to Sept. 11.
Then things got weird, puzzling—more head-scratching than the prospect of a Washington Nationals-Baltimore Orioles World Series. There was a wardrobe malfunction and a slow-motion corner kick, and suddenly, what started as a soccer game turned into more of a debate tournament.
Sooner than you can say “Snow Bunny,” the propriety of cautionary yellow card infractions became more of an issue than the game itself. And it all started quietly when Hailey senior Trevor Brand jogged off the field with a yellow card for failing to wear a shin guard.
Presumably, Monjaras thought Brand would incur a yellow for the equipment violation, but it went to the coach.
Center referee Joe McNeal correctly issued the yellow card caution to coach Monjaras instead of Brand, and Brand soon returned to the field. The game continued and Brand, probably Wood River’s best player with a long résumé of club soccer battles, went over to take a corner kick in the 64th minute. He never took it.
Time stood still as Brand hovered over the corner kick, analyzing and adjusting the ball. Junior Andrew Graves, who usually takes Wood River’s corner kicks, could have taken two or three kicks in the time that Brand surveyed his one in slow motion.
Referee McNeal rushed over and flipped Brand for a delay-of-game yellow card, then accompanied him off the field as required when an infraction occurs. Just as that happened, Twin Falls coach Ben Harman and his coaching staff started flailing their arms wildly. They waved to their players from the sideline, ordering them to leave the field and come to the bench.
The game ended right there, replaced by sermonizing from the Twin Falls side and explanations from Wood River. The suspended game went down in the books as a Wolverine 3-0 win, since more than the required half of the game had been played. All the Twin Falls players, junior varsity included, walked off to their bus.
Minutes later, they were at the nearby Snow Bunny restaurant for dinner—leaving Wood River varsity and JV players to scrimmage among themselves in the twilight as a replacement for the usual post-game junior varsity contest.
Blame it on the new Idaho High School Activities Association yellow card accumulation rule that asks coaches and athletic directors to keep track of yellow cards. Piling up five yellow cards causes a player to be suspended for the next regularly scheduled season game.
It encourages coaches like Monjaras, locked in fights for league supremacy, to devise tactics designed to keep their best players on the field and target the games that a player is likely to miss because of having too many yellows. Some coaches call it gamesmanship but it falls under the new rules.
Monjaras admitted he was engaging in a bit of gamesmanship and managing the game when he asked Brand to absorb his fourth yellow card of the season for intentionally delaying the game by lingering over a simple corner kick. He knew Brand could possibly pick up his fifth yellow in yesterday’s game at Burley, putting him on the bench for Saturday’s nonleague game at Highland.
“I was going by the rules. It was a perfect game and a perfect opportunity for this, and we made sure we did it the right way, which was a yellow card that wasn’t really deserved and didn’t end up hurting anyone,” said Monjaras.
Indeed, before Brand went over to take the corner kick, Monjaras told sideline official Lynn Chaldu of what he was going to do, a message that was intentionally done in full earshot of Twin Falls coach Harman.
“It was the perfect time. I just didn’t expect Twin Falls to react that way,” said Monjaras.
After the game, coach Harman explained to officials that he objected to a coach “manipulating the game.” By pulling his team off the field, Harman acknowledged openly that he was sending a message that coaches shouldn’t try to control a game in such a way.
Harman said, “He (Monjaras) did everything that everybody predicted coaches would try in complying with the new rule. But I see it in a moral way. We have an obligation as coaches to send the right message of sportsmanship to our players, for them to be good citizens above all.”
When Fourth District soccer coaches had their pre-season meeting, they discussed the new yellow card rule and gave tacit approval to the idea that coaches might see fit to intentionally seek noninjury yellow cards for their players at opportune times. Twin Falls coach Harman said he was the only one who spoke up in objection to that line of thinking.
He was alone in speaking, but not alone in the sentiment.
Wood River girls’ soccer coach Jenni Conrad was there at the meeting. “I totally got where the Twin Falls coach was coming from. I thought the whole thing was craziness,” she said. “His point was a coach should use good judgment and send the right messages to kids. For me, I don’t feel like we should be manipulating the game. You should be able to just go out and play.”
John Rade, Wood River athletic director and a retired National Football League player, said, “I can see both sides, but I don’t like the idea of coaching our kids to get a yellow card. I don’t like the idea of teaching our kids to break a rule. From that lens, I can see the Twin Falls point of view on this.
“These are high school kids, not adults playing professionally. The other side is, if it’s gamesmanship, it’s an accepted part of the game. The important thing is everybody is on the same page.”
Conrad agreed. She said, “This might be a good thing for the future of soccer, that it’s now being discussed.”
Certainly, the pipeline of coaches and soccer aficionados was all a-Twitter on Wednesday. It seemed like all futbol fans this side of The Dugout in Liverpool weighed in on the issue and saw it well worth discussion.
Buhl boys’ soccer coach Tracy Clark was one, talking it about it at length prior to Wednesday’s Elkhorn game against the Community School. He volunteered that he didn’t like the rule in the first place, comparing how athletes are penalized in sports like basketball and football and how those infractions don’t carry over into the next scheduled game.
He was also one of the many coaches at the meeting who understood that gamesmanship would be a byproduct of the rule. What bothered him most about Harman’s decision Tuesday wasn’t the gist of his argument, but the fact that in making his “statement” Harman unilaterally walked out on the junior varsity game and thus deprived those players.
“I’ll be calling the District 4 commissioner. We’ll see what we can do, “ said Rade. Harman added, “The athletic directors need to be discussing this.”
Thursday, Wood River (3-0-3, 4-0-1 league) traveled to reigning league champ Burley (2-3-2, 1-2-2) and goes to Highland in Pocatello (4-0-2) Saturday. The Wolverines tied Highland 0-0 Aug. 23. Canyon Ridge (2-4-1, 2-3-0) arrives in Hailey Tuesday.
Bruins blank WRHS girls
Coach Jenni Conrad’s Wolverine girls (5-2-0, 4-1-0) entered the most challenging stretch of their season Tuesday with a 3-0 road loss to reigning GBC tournament champion Twin Falls (8-1-0, 5-0-0) at SunWay Soccer Complex in Twin Falls.
“We came out flat and couldn’t get a lot of offense going—couldn’t connect passes and had defensive breakdowns,” said Conrad. “Twin Falls moved to the ball better and beat us to most of the balls. Their backs and defenders are fast. And they were coming off a big win over Century.”
Wood River hosted Burley (1-6-1, 0-4-1) Thursday and will entertain the 5A Highland Rams of Pocatello (6-1-1) Saturday, Sept. 15, at 11 a.m. on the Hailey pitch. A 4-2 home winner over Wood River on Aug. 23, Highland dropped its first game 1-0 at home to Hillcrest (5-1-0) Tuesday. The Wolverines visit Canyon Ridge (3-3-0, 3-2-0) Tuesday.