Soccer locals ‘appalled’ by BYU, New Mexico incident
Normally, a women’s college soccer game between Brigham Young University and the University of New Mexico wouldn’t generate much interest outside of those teams’ fans.
But when you have a player punching, elbowing and pulling opponents down by the hair, it becomes a hot topic around the nation.
Last week’s incident, when New Mexico junior defender Elizabeth Lambert attacked BYU players in the Lobos’ season-ending 1-0 loss in the Mountain West Conference tournament, ignited a bevy of public opinion when the video hit the Internet.
“I was pretty appalled by some of the specific physicality of it,” Mesa State women’s coach Erin Sharpe said. “Certainly the game gets more physical at that level, but her antics were completely unnecessary.
“One reason it gets more physical, the refs do let more go. I’m not sure why she just got a yellow card, if the refs were not looking, or they let it go. It’s disappointing she didn’t get a red card. The New Mexico athletics staff responded well.”
The New Mexico athletic department suspended Lambert indefinitely from all practices, competitions and conditioning activities.
“It should be interesting to see if they do (uphold the suspension next fall),” Sharpe said. “The spring season is a no-brainer. I wouldn’t be surprised if they dismiss her. With all the national attention it’s getting, there is more pressure on the administration to make an example of her. Fortunately, she was remorseful.”
Is the outcry a case of girls behaving badly that’s drawn all the attention?
“I think a lot of the attention is because most of country doesn’t know much about women’s soccer,” Sharpe said. “They don’t expect women’s soccer to be that physical. She crossed the line and people are shocked that happened. If it happened in men’s soccer or American football or hockey, we’d be immune to it.”
Although acknowledging the actions of Lambert were vicious, Grand Junction Soccer Club General Manager Larry Johnson said all of the blame shouldn’t fall on the 20-year old player, who has since apologized.
“There has been so much attention on her and it could ruin her career, which I don’t think it should,” Johnson said. “It should be more on her coach and the referee.”
As a coach and referee himself, Johnson said those two parties are just as guilty as Lambert.
“I get disappointed with the coach,” Johnson said. “A lot of those things were on the ball and the coach chose not to do anything. He was playing for the win and not taking her out (of the game), which he should have done.”
Sharpe does what she can to prevent a Mesa player from acting out like Lambert.
“There is always an element of unpredictability,” Sharpe said. “I don’t mean to put the New Mexico coach down, but at the beginning of each season, I let it be known how unacceptable that is. I think an indefinite suspension would be appropriate.
“Whether an individual receives a yellow card or a red card, the entire team pays ramifications in extra fitness and work. We accumulated 10 yellow cards and they were not malicious fouls. Last year, we had an instance we received a yellow card for pushing a player and the whole team was punished for it. It created a unity on the team not do it.”
Johnson said although it was an ugly situation for the game of soccer, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned.
“To players, I would talk about being mentally tough. It was a situation where a she got thrown off of her game and got mentally broken down,” Johnson said. “And as a coach it’s about knowing what your players are doing and controlling them.”
The physical play could be a reflection of American soccer. Just as with any sport, the style of play differs around the world. Grand Junction High School boys soccer coach Stephen Latta said the American style is more aggressive and physical.
“I’ve played abroad in Brazil and the way they play soccer isn’t too physical,” Latta said. “Soccer is the states is a lot more physical and less finesse.”
Latta said the physical mindset is pretty commonplace in American soccer.
“You look at rosters in the MLS or college and they incorporate a lot more muscle mass to facilitate physical play,” Latta said. “There is a lot more body contact.”
Physical play isn’t completely discouraged by Grand Junction area coaches. In fact, Johnson said he’s encouraged more physical play, which in turn, has helped make the local club teams more successful.
“We are starting to see more Grand Junction teams have more success when we go to Denver because those kids play more physical,” Johnson said. “We are telling our kids to play physical, but (Lambert) crossed the line.”