Sandy • It’s a rare feat for a soccer player to get red-carded twice in the same game, but RSL’s Aaron Herrera managed his first career ejection on two separate occasions Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The first one, of course, didn’t stick.
On the second go-round, however, it not only held up, it effectively decided the outcome in the 2-0 loss against Western Conference-leading LAFC.
Beyond the simple impact of L.A. getting a penalty kick out of it, the card eliminated a rare opportunity to play a man up against the team dominating the MLS.
“I thought 60 minutes in, we were in a fantastic spot. I thought we were really unlucky getting a red card and a PK,” Corey Baird said afterward. “… The PK just changes the entire dynamic of the game. You just get one or the other, we’re still in it. The double-whammy — mentally, it just sets you back.”
The 22-year-old Herrera was initially whistled and ejected for a handball in the box in the 25th minute by referee Baldomero Toledo.
Except that before the penalty could be taken, a VAR review was ordered, which determined conclusively that Herrera did indeed block the shot, but with his torso, rather than his extremities.
No such review was necessary on the latter, though.
In the 62nd minute, an RSL turnover led to an LAFC counterattack, and striker Carlos Vela outraced the defense and was heading for a 1-on-1 showdown against keeper Nick Rimando. There was no doubt of the foul this time, as the pursuing defender Herrera reached out and grabbed Vela on the shoulder, pulling him down.
Herrera (who wasn’t made available postgame) was escorted to the locker room, Vela was awarded a penalty, and RSL’s too-brief man advantage was erased.
Moments later, Vela confidently buried a rocket into the upper left corner, beyond the reach of Rimando in their momentarily-delayed showdown.
“Once you find Vela in a 1v1 and he has position on you — in the World Cup, the Germans couldn’t stop him,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez. “He gets position on you, we get a little bit desperate in that situation; maybe we didn’t have to get desperate. Maybe he still scores, but you’re up a man. Those are hard things. It’s hard in that moment. Listen, Aaron has been great for us all season, and now he has to deal with arguably the best player in MLS.”
Juarez wishes it hadn’t come down to that.
The brand-new head coach even took some of the blame for how it unfolded.
When LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman was issued his second yellow card of the night and sent off around the 47-minute mark, RSL was ecstatic at having a man advantage against the club running roughshod against the league.
It only lasted 15 minutes.
Juarez said going up a man actually created some artificial pressure on RSL that wound up costing the team.
“We got ourselves into a great situation where you are up a man against a very, very good opponent. That’s kind of where maybe my management wasn’t the greatest — you gotta make sure, against a team like this, you don’t have to get a goal too quick in the game; that goal can come at any time,” he said. “… There’s no rush to get that goal. If it doesn’t come, we don’t lose the match. … But if there’s a loss of possession against these guys, they’re not gonna give you a second chance. You don’t get a second chance against these guys.”
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman agreed that the team pressing for a score wound up creating the situation that led to giving one up instead.
“Maybe we pushed a little too hard to try to get a goal right away,” he said. “… We had the ball, it wasn’t them breaking us down. We’ll watch it, and we’ll see if we can make a better decision next time. If we make a better decision, maybe it’s us going for a goal instead of it coming down the other way.”