Corners another weapon in Quakes' comeback repertoire

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – With Steven Lenhart’s game-winning goal Saturday, the San Jose Earthquakes took over the league lead in yet one more offensive category.

Lenhart’s 93rd-minute header off Shea Salinas’ corner kick lifted the Quakes to a 2-1 win against the Seattle Sounders and represented San Jose’s eighth goal this season off such situations. Houston is now second with seven corner-kick scores.

Considering San Jose lead MLS with 47 total goals in 24 matches – and are second with 138 total corners – an eight-goal haul doesn’t seem like it should come as much of a shock.

But San Jose had 143 corners last year and could only cash in four of them. And that increased success is just another area where the Quakes have made the improvements that converted an 8-12-14 club in 2011 to a side that’s gone 14-5-5 in 2012.

HIGHLIGHTS: SJ 2, SEA 1

“Whether that’s guys who can jump well, or they’re aggressive, we have guys that are dangerous in the air,” said Quakes assistant coach Mark Watson, who ran the club Saturday in place of the suspended Frank Yallop. “And our service has been fantastic this year. It’s a combination of two things: hard, sharp runs and great service. We’ve done that very well this year and been rewarded for it.”

The Quakes were certainly rewarded Saturday night when Salinas rushed to San Jose’s left wing as the clock neared expiration and sent in a gently curling ball to the top of Seattle’s 6-yard box.

“I was just trying to get the ball in the box,” said Salinas, who was looking for a bit of personal redemption. “The first corner kick I took was not very good, so I just kind of floated the second one in there. Lenny’s a beast in the air and finishes it.”

Lenhart created just enough space for himself by running Zach Scott, the Seattle defender assigned to mark him, into Sounders forward Eddie Johnson, who was hoping to clear Salinas’ corner. Instead, as Scott vainly tried to get past Johnson and back into the play, Lenhart leapt in front of both Sounders and sent the ball to the far post, out of the reach of Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.

“We’re just pushing and getting corners, and you’re bound to score on a couple of those, if you’re getting good balls in the box, which we are,” Lenhart said. “We have guys in there that are dangerous. Tonight, it just happened to be pretty late in the game.”

To some extent, the success is an offshoot of San Jose’s emphasis on their wing play. The Quakes have feasted all year on crosses from the likes of Marvin Chavez, Salinas, Steven Beitashour and Ramiro Corrales. So a corner kick is right in their wheelhouse.

For Salinas, it comes down to desire on the part of San Jose’s front men – Lenhart, Alan Gordon (absent through suspension on Saturday) and Chris Wondolowski.

“I think it’s just the heart guys like Lenny, Gordon and Wondo have,” Salinas said. “They’ll attack the ball and they’re not scared of anything, really. That’s what it’s a byproduct of, is them playing with no fear.”

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