The San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday featured a bevy of breakthroughs: First road victory of the season, first win of any sort for debutant interim coach Mark Watson and perhaps most importantly, the first goal in 2013 for Steven Lenhart.
In Watson’s initial match replacing former boss Frank Yallop, the Quakes got back to using one of Yallop’s favorite mixes of personnel, with Lenhart and Alan Gordon teaming up in front of reigning league MVP Chris Wondolowski. That triumvirate was devastatingly effective in 2012 but seldom seen this year as Gordon and Lenhart recovered from offseason surgery (two of them in Gordon’s case) and both served suspensions.
The target men combined to open an early lead for the Quakes. Gordon flicked on a long pass out of the back from defender Justin Morrow. Lenhart took a touch and slowed to let the ball roll to him, and even as Colorado’s Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute tried to close down the space, he let fly from 24 yards, overpowering Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin at the near post.
“Lenny’s goal was fantastic,” Watson said. “He took it well. It came from some hard work and pressing in the right areas.”
Said Wondolowski: “It was some finish by Lenny. He’s been knocking on the door. He’s been close; it’s taken some good saves by keepers to keep him off the board. But I thought today he played really well.”
The pair almost created another score in the 66th minute, which would have put the Quakes up 3-0 on the 10-man Rapids and, presumably, saved San Jose some of the nailbiting they underwent in a nervy final 20 minutes. Lenhart was sprung down the center of the pitch by Gordon, but the ensuing chip attempt was far too low to escape Irwin’s clutches.
“They don’t really base their game off speed,” Watson said. “It’s more working off each other and holding up the ball, and then bringing guys into play. I thought they did a good job of that tonight.”
Given that Gordon and Lenhart combined for 23 goals last season, getting them back to their dangerous form was high on Watson’s list of priorities, with the hope that it would be the first domino to fall for San Jose’s scuffling offense.
In that regard, Saturday’s performance worked out very much as planned; when Lenhart drew the attention of Rapids center back Drew Moor in the 52nd minute by posting up for a potential pass just inside Colorado’s defensive third, midfielder Sam Cronin surged into the empty space behind the pair. Rafael Baca delivered a well-weighted ball and Cronin slotted home past Irwin for a 2-0 lead that would hold up, if barely.
“It was great,” Cronin said of Lenhart’s goal. “If we can get them going, along with Wondo, it’s a pretty formidable strike force we have going. They were great tonight, just holding the ball up, really battling and making it tough on their center backs.”