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Lenhart takes indefinite leave of absence from Quakes

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes acknowledged publicly Thursday that forward Steven Lenhart is on what the team called an “indefinite family leave of absence,” with no timetable set for his return.

Lenhart, who joined his family in Southern California after the Quakes’ 2-2 tie with Vancouver on July 20, is second to Chris Wondolowski with five goals and is tied for the team lead with three assists despite playing just 14 matches this year.

The 24-year-old, acquired by San Jose in a draft-day trade from Columbus, missed the season’s first five matches after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and suffering the unexpected death of his father, Gary, in March. Club officials have acknowledged that Lenhart’s current absence also relates to his father’s passing.

“We have a very tight-knit group here and everybody in the organization has compassion for Steven’s situation,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said in a statement released by the team. “The last few months have been very difficult for the Lenharts and we wish them all the best. Family is the most important thing and we fully support him right now. When he is ready to rejoin the club, we will welcome him with open arms.”

Lenhart bounced back initially from his grief and helped key the Quakes’ 2-1-1 record in June with four goals, including a hat trick at D.C. United to secure three road points. But he seemed distracted in his last couple of appearances with the Quakes, especially against the Whitecaps, when he couldn’t convert on a pair of golden one-on-one chances against Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon.

The tall striker’s absence, combined with the quadriceps injury that continues to sideline Alan Gordon, has left the Quakes without the big target forward that is a staple of Yallop’s offense. With four-goal man Simon Dawkins out due to a strained hamstring, Yallop was forced to pair Wondolowski with Scott Sealy up top last week in a 2-0 home loss to United.

“We miss them,” Yallop said this week of Lenhart and Dawkins. “The load can’t be always on Wondo. We had two guys lightening the load for Chris, and doing very well, I thought. So [it’s] two key guys we’re missing.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes