As the MLS season approaches, MLSsoccer.com marks each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for March 2.
18 – Career yellow cards for Steven Lenhart
When a host of Major League Soccer VIPs cruised through New York City earlier this week in the league’s marketing initiative to make their stars a bit more luminous, all the usual suspects made the trip.
Thierry Henry strolled through the crowd, Robbie Keane joked and jibed with reporters, Eddie Johnson busted out the Steve Urkel glasses and still somehow pulled it off. And somewhere in that group, there was a surfer dude you probably never expected to see as part of a league promotional campaign.
Whatever you feel about Steven Lenhart, the dude abides. He's become a star, and he’s not going anywhere.
WATCH: Burch takes down Lenhart
The San Jose Earthquakes striker is on the cusp of what will undoubtedly be the most closely watched season of his six year-career, thanks in no small part to all the damage he did in 2012. It wasn’t a breakout year per se – Lenhart is beloved in Columbus for his wrecking-ball days there from 2008-10 – but it certainly made him part of the national soccer conversation because of a career-high 10 goals, a flair for stoppage-time heroics and, well, just being Steven Lenhart.
Is he the most divisive character in the league now that Rafa Márquez is gone? He’s got as good a case as anyone. The fans in Seattle love to log on and vent the venom about Lenhart after he buckled to the CenturyLink Field turf and set up the game-winning penalty kick against the Sounders last March, and LA fans chortled with glee after Lenhart and the Quakes went down swinging in the Western Conference semis last year.
And San Jose fans? They love him. How can you not adore the guy who scored pair of game-winning goals, first christened the “Goonies never say die” mantra for the Quakes’ magical season and donned a synthetic blonde wig over his actual blonde hair after scoring a last-second goal on Steven Lenhart wig night? How meta was that?
WATCH: Lenhart shoves Gonzalez
Lenhart will undoubtedly be back at the mischief again (he received a career-high seven yellow cards last season and one in the playoffs), but here’s the thing: For all the fans who hoot and holler about Lenhart (look, they’re doing it right now in the comments on this article!) there’s probably not a single coach in the league that hasn’t called up the San Jose front office or at least considered leaving GM John Doyle a message wondering if they can talk about what it would take to make a deal. Sorry, that’s the truth.
The big question this year, though, is if Lenhart can match that energy from 2012 and channel it again in 2013, or if the rest of the league can begin to figure him out. He was mouse-quiet against the Galaxy in the postseason other than an ill-advised shove (Omar Gonzalez surely had something to do with that), but can every team find a way to match Lenhart’s physicality and menacing mentality game in and game out?
Lenhart may not have exactly ascended to superstar status in the league yet, but there’s no denying this: March 2 is the beginning of another season watching Lenny be Lenny. Dig it, dude.