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Eastern Conference Championship

Quakes confident Lenhart trade was an upgrade

On the eve of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, San Jose Earthquakes general manager John Doyle and coach Frank Yallop both admitted it was unlikely their team would be able to unearth an impact forward with the 15th overall selection Thursday.

So when the pair were able to trade the No. 15 pick — with the application of some allocation money — for Columbus Crew forward Steven Lenhart, scorer of six goals during MLS play last season, they were pleased, to say the least.

“Fantastically happy with it,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “I think it’s a great pickup for us. He’s a proven player in our league. Nobody likes playing against Stephen Lenhart, that is for sure.”

The acquisition of Lenhart, 24, starts to fill the holes left by departing attackers Geovanni, Eduardo, Arturo Alvarez and Cornell Glen. Perhaps even more importantly, the 6-foot-4 Southern Californian gives the Quakes a legitimate target up front, something they lacked throughout 2010.

“He’s big, he’s brave and he’s fast,” Doyle told MLSsoccer.com. “People don’t realize that he’s fast. Lenhart’s an old-school center forward, a target forward with pace.”

For his part, Lenhart was thrilled with the chance to return to his home state. He starred at Azusa Pacific, becoming an NAIA All-American before being selected by Columbus at No. 48 overall in the 2008 SuperDraft.

[inline_node:311239]“I knew I wanted to go back to California, I just didn’t know how or where,” Lenhart told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a shock, but it’s a good shock.”

Lenhart has gone to the playoffs in each of his three MLS seasons, and hopes to help San Jose perpetuate that string.

“I have a high work ethic and ask a lot out of myself,” Lenhart said. “Hopefully my competitive nature and spirit (will come through). I want to be on a team that wins games and earns respect around the league.”

The move is salary-cap friendly for the Quakes, as Lenhart is considered a bargain as he plays in the final year of his current contract.

“He’ll have a chance for a year to prove what he’s worth,” Doyle said.

Doyle said Wednesday night that there was “not a whole lot of interest in the 15th pick,” but when Real Salt Lake called timeout on the No. 14 selection, Doyle circled back with Columbus, who had discussed Lenhart (and other players) for a few weeks.

Things came together quickly after that, and Columbus selected Michigan forward Justin Meram in the No. 15 slot.

The deal also speaks to the Quakes’ confidence that last year’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals — unexpected by most national observers — is not a fluke, but a sign of things to come. Having just turned 22, Meram may eventually turn out to have a higher ceiling than Lenhart, but Lenhart will be able to contribute immediately where a rookie might not.

“This is a move for us to be a better team,” Yallop said. “We want to be better, not sitting back and saying, ‘We were great last year, let’s keep the same team together.’ That wasn’t going to happen.”

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


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