Monday MLS Breakdown: Laws of the Game, mental breakdowns cost San Jose two points against Vancouver

Many, many factors can cause a team to drop points. An equipment malfunction and a suspect knowledge of the rulebook probably should not feature among them.

Even the most determined of referee instructors would have struggled to conjure up the scenario that unfolded shortly after the hour mark at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night.

San Jose entered this fateful period with a 1-0 lead. Chris Wondolowski collected a deft touch from Alan Gordon and lashed home after 18 minutes to stake the home side to its slender advantage. On the balance of play, the edge appeared warranted.

The tenor of the affair mattered little to what unfolded during a rather peculiar few minutes. Both Gordon and defender Victor Bernárdez found themselves in need of a boot change. They spotted an opportunity to make a quick switch when Sam Cronin went down to receive treatment for a knock. And they quickly seized upon the opening to rectify their own situations.

A problem quickly emerged: they could not tend to the problem on the field and they could not return to the field immediately after addressing their concerns.

The problem, in this case, originated within Rule Four of the Laws of the Game. Rule Four governs player equipment. Every player must wear certain compulsory equipment items while he is on the field: jersey, shorts, stockings (socks), shinguards and footwear. If, at any point, a player infringes upon the Law (example: removes his cleats), he must then leave the field to fix the issue.

If Rule Four stopped at that point, then Bernárdez, Gordon and the Earthquakes would not have incurred any problems on this particular night. Unfortunately for them, it continues onward to a pair of applicable clauses that dictated the outcome in this case:

“... any player required to leave the field of play to correct his equipment must not re-enter without the referee's permission … the player is only allowed to re-enter the field of play when the ball is out of play.” 

FIFA Laws of the Game, Rule Four

Instead of making a quick and necessary alteration to their footwear and receiving the typical wave onto the field as play continued, both players found themselves marooned on the sideline until play stopped. The situation handed the Whitecaps a two-man advantage for a brief period of time for essentially no reason at all.

Vancouver may not have registered a shot on goal prior to that point, but it made use of the temporary advantage to snatch a point. Corey Hertzog somehow controlled Daigo Kobayashi's errant effort and then tucked home inside the near post to throw the Whitecaps a lifeline.

As one might expect, the entire scenario led to furious reactions from the Earthquakes as they processed the situation. The benefit of a cursory review of the Laws of the Game and a little time to cool down prompted a more sheepish take on the entire incident from Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop.

“It was really poor on our behalf of not realizing that the rule is you can’t go back on the field [during the run of play],” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told “There has to be a stoppage in play... It’s just one of those nights that frustrates the team and frustrates me as a head coach.”

Yallop and his players aren't the only ones capable of getting caught in this scenario. As Donovan McNabb's ignorance of the existence of ties showed a few ago, the rules and the regulations of a sport do not always carry weight with its combatants. They may play the game, but they do not necessarily invest in how it operates.

Expect a few coaches around the league to reinforce the need to skim through the Laws of the Game in a bid to avoid such an implausible scenario in the future. Those remedial steps will not restore the two points dropped by San Jose on Saturday night. They may, however, prevent similarly unlikely events from unfolding in the future.

Five Points – Week 6

1. One player issues a perfect response to his critics…: Toronto FC fullback Darel Russell received plenty of scrutiny for his inability to clear prior to Jose Villarreal's late equalizer in last Saturday's 2-2 draw against Los Angeles. Russell still leaves the Reds back four exposed from time to time, but he earned himself a reprieve from criticism for a week or two after uncorking a spectacular equalizer to give TFC a perhaps fortunate share of the spoils in Saturday's 2-2 home draw with FC Dallas.

2. …as three teams issue their own reply to a ragged start to the season: Chicago (3-1 over New York), Colorado (1-0 over Real Salt Lake) and Portland (2-0 over Houston) all registered their first win of the season. Their work over the weekend leaves Seattle as the only team without a victory through the first six weeks of the campaign, though Sounders FC received a bye this weekend to aid their efforts in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

3. Fire leans on old supremacy to start new chapter this season: Leave it to the Red Bulls to offer a lifeline to Frank Klopas' side at Toyota Park. New York extended its winless run to 10 matches (0-7-3) in Bridgeview by suffering that setback on Sunday afternoon.

4. Critical intervention paves the way for battered Rapids to succeed: Real Salt Lake striker Álvaro Saborío entered Saturday's defeat in Commerce City, Colo. with a perfect 12-for-12 record from the penalty spot. Referee Chris Penso rather generously afforded him lucky number 13 in the first half after Dillon Powers embraced Kyle Beckerman a bit too earnestly as they jostled for a free kick. Saborío stepped up yet again, but the usual outcome did not follow. Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin reacted smartly to divert Saborío's effort and preserve the lead his side managed to protect for the remainder of the match.

5. Ryan Johnson grabs his reward as Portland thrives: The industrious striker toils earnestly for the cause no matter the uniform he wears. Johnson's work doesn't always lead to goals, but it did on Saturday. The Jamaican international struck twice after halftime to provide the margin of victory at JELD-WEN Field and show that his contributions extend beyond running himself into the ground in each match.

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