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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

'Here, that's not a foul': Aristeguieta on adjusting to MLS's physicality

Fernando Aristeguieta is voicing his opinion
on what it takes to get a foul called in MLS.
The consensus among new arrivals to MLS is that the league’s physicality is among the most difficult aspects of the league to get acclimated to.

Fernando Aristeguieta is not exempt from that adjustment, a process which has forced the Venezuelan forward to recalibrate his definition of a foul.

It’s been fairly obvious to those watching Aristeguieta this season that he’s taken a beating. But he’s still getting used to what constitutes a foul and what the requisite level of punishment is to get a foul called in his favor.

Aristeguieta, near MLS’s lead in more auspicious categories like shots (fourth with 25) and shots on goal (third with 12), is tied for 20th in fouls suffered (15). He’s second on the Union in that category, trailing only the 17 fouls incurred by Maurice Edu. Five of those fouls came in the opener against foul-happy Colorado, including two punished by yellow cards.

It doesn’t help that the on-loan forward has suffered a pair of non-contact/accidental injuries, partially tearing a quad and getting stepped on by Sporting Kansas City’s Ike Opara to fracture his ring finger.

Aristeguieta’s ability to take those injuries in stride shows that he’s a gamer. But stomaching the inconsistencies of MLS refereeing is a more difficult feat.

“The most difficult thing has been the contact that the referees allowed,” Aristeguieta said Wednesday. “It’s something that it’s hard because in Venezuela or in France, you have the same contact but you win a foul. And if you win a foul, you’re getting something for the team. Here you receive more, and you don’t have anything from it and that’s the most difficult thing.”

Aristeguieta, who leads the Union with three goals and is the only player on the squad to have found the back of the net multiple times this season, has adapted well to many other aspects of MLS, from the speed of play to the vertical nature of the game. He’s shaken off the injuries – which necessitated surgery to insert a pin in his finger and injections to his quad – to miss just the first game against NYCFC, while he’s gone at least 87 minutes in six of the seven matches he’s played.

At 6-2, 181 pounds, the 23-year-old is no pushover. He’s held his own in the box against defenders so far this season (just ask Matt Besler about how Aristeguieta warded off the World Cup veteran like it was nothing on this goal) and hasn’t been one to go to ground particularly easily. The physical dimension to his hold-up play is obvious and would be aided by getting whistles more often, if and when he completes whatever arcane and informal dues-paying process MLS imposes.

Gauging what is and isn’t a foul in MLS remains a work in progress. His tone doesn't come off as grousing (even if dissent did lead to a pair of yellow cards in his first two games) just seeking to better understand where the line is.

“I have to forget it a little bit to get used to it,” he said. “I think I’m getting better game after game in this way and continue to keep going because it’s something that is going to happen and I can’t change it.”

In striking the proper balance, Aristeguieta says he’s consulted some of the team’s veterans like Conor Casey, who spent six seasons in Germany to provide an international frame of reference. Their advice has been simple, if not particularly informative.

“He just reminds me that here, that’s not a foul,” Aristeguieta said. “Just to keep going. He played outside the United States, and he told me that it’s different there.

“I’m not saying that it’s better or worse, but it’s just different and here you have to keep going because the referees let the play continue.”

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