SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Steven Lenhart brought the San Jose Earthquakes’ late-game magic back with him on Saturday.
In front of a Buck Shaw Stadium crowd dotted with fans wearing blond wigs handed out in his honor, Lenhart returned from a four-game injury absence and hammered home a goal in the 98th minute to give the Quakes a 1-1 tie against the Chicago Fire.
Lenhart scored from 20 yards, lasering a ball chested down by Chris Wondolowski to finally break through against Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who had kept MLS’ most prolific offense at bay to that point with 10 saves, several of a spectacular variety.
The goal neutralized a 37th-minute strike from Chicago midfielder Chris Rolfe and kept alive San Jose’s streak of late-game performances. Sixteen of the Earthquakes’ league-leading 45 goals have come in the 76th minute or later.
San Jose (13-5-5) moved two points clear of Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.
Chicago (9-7-5) failed to win for the first time this season when scoring the first goal. The Fire had been 6-0-0 when taking a 1-0 lead. Chicago also dropped to 4-0-1 after holding a halftime lead.
Rolfe put Chicago ahead with relative ease in the 37th minute, slipping between midfielder Sam Cronin and the Quakes’ back four to receive a pass from Patrick Nyarko. When San Jose failed to close down quickly enough, Rolfe put a well-placed toe kick to the far post from 23 yards, past the reach of Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch.
San Jose, who came in a league-best 3-3-2 when conceding the first goal, searched desperately for an equalizer, only to find Johnson lurking at almost every turn.
The Quakes had a great look at goal in the 59th minute, when forward Alan Gordon rose up in Chicago’s box for an unimpeded header, but Johnson dove low to his right and scooped the ball to safety.
Johnson tipped a Simon Dawkins drive over the crossbar in the 85th minute as the Earthquakes poured players forward.
Busch matched Johnson early on, parrying shots from Nyarko and Alex, and charged off his line to break up a dangerous counterattack by Logan Pause in the 79th minute to keep San Jose in the contest.
Four of Johnson’s pre-intermission saves came at the expense of Dawkins, who tried every way to score without success. Whether it was a full volley from outside the penalty box (21st minute), a redirection from inside the 6 (33rd), a a left-footed blast from 14 yards (36th) or a tightly angled back-post volley (44th), Johnson was up to the task.
Gordon took a yellow card in the 55th minute after colliding with Pause, and another in the 93rd after losing a 50-50 battle with Dan Gargan to get sent off. San Jose’s second-leading scorer will serve a one-game suspension when the Quakes face Seattle on Aug. 11.
Dutch forward Sherjill MacDonald, signed by Chicago as a Designated Player on Tuesday, opened on the bench in his first game with the Fire and debuted in the 64th minute. Midfielder Álvaro Fernández, another DP acquired from the Sounders on Friday, did not make the trip and will meet the team in Chicago next week.
San Jose, who host English Premier League side Swansea City on July 31 in a friendly, return to MLS action on Aug. 11 against Seattle. Chicago host Toronto on Aug. 4.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Sean Johnson||The late goal will be a bitter, bitter pill to swallow after he put on what was easily the best goalkeeping performance of the year|
|2||Justin Morrow||A sterling defensive performance from the recent, All-Star, kept Chicago's attackers at bay for most of the game both on the left andin the center|
|3||Steven Lenhart||Showed his typical bustle off the bench after a four-game layoff and his a perfect shot to steal a point for the San Jose at the death|