San Jose Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart could end up on shelf after knee injury

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes saw in 2013 just how much not having a healthy Steven Lenhart hurt their effectiveness offensively.

Now they may be facing that situation again.

Lenhart went down in the 77th minute against the New England Revolution on Saturday after launching himself at a header near midfield along with the Revs’ Andy Dorman. Upon landing, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Lenhart reached for his left knee and eventually limped off the pitch with an arm around the shoulders of head athletic trainer Brian Lee.

A team spokesman said Monday afternoon that the forward has been diagnosed with a sprained medial collateral ligament.

Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski said he talked to Lenhart after the game and was hopeful the injury won’t be that bad.

“He’s a big part of our team, of our locker room,” Wondolowski said. “I feel gutted any time anyone goes down. I’m very close to Steven, and I don’t like seeing him go down, especially with the knee. ... He seems to be very optimistic about it, and I like that. I wouldn’t expect anything else from him.”

The schedule will help Lenhart and the Quakes in this instance, since the club is on a bye week and doesn’t play again until April 13 against Columbus.

Lenhart had arthroscopic surgery on the meniscus in his right knee in March 2011 and November 2012. Coach Mark Watson indicated late last season that the right knee had continued to hamper Lenhart, whose goal total dropped to four from a career-high 10 during the Quakes’ Supporters’ Shield run of 2012.

But Lenhart looked strong during the Quakes’ opening month, shouldering a heavy load as San Jose’s primary target man with veteran Alan Gordon still rounding into shape following offseason foot surgery. In three MLS matches this season, Lenhart has drawn 15 fouls, which translates to a rate of 5.23 per 90 minutes – or almost double what he put up in his previous three seasons with the Quakes (2.65). And those free kicks are made even more valuable by San Jose’s strength on set pieces.

“You never want to see one of your teammates go down and grab their knee and scream,” Quakes midfielder Shea Salinas told MLSsoccer.com on Saturday. “Hopefully, Lenny’s OK. Hopefully he gets back soon and it’s nothing serious. Even if it is, I’m confident in our team to step up and find a way to win games. Lenny is, obviously, a huge part of our offense, and if he’s not in there, we might have to change a few things.”