SAN JOSE, Calif. — Steven Lenhart may not have suited up for the San Jose Earthquakes since mid-July, but coach Frank Yallop has seen enough to know he wants to see some more.
Yallop said Tuesday that he feels Lenhart — the 25-year-old who scored five times in 14 appearances but has spent more than two months on an “indefinite family leave of absence” — will return to the Quakes for 2012 and beyond.
Lenhart, who hasn’t spoken publicly since leaving the club, is out of contract and would need to sign a new deal with MLS. But Yallop was undeterred in his belief.
“I think that Steven will play for us next year,” Yallop said. “I’ve got a nice feeling that we’ll have him for next year. I think he just kind of needed to get this year out of his mind.”
Lenhart, acquired by San Jose in a draft-day trade from Columbus before this season, missed the first five matches due to arthroscopic knee surgery and the unexpected death of his father, Gary. The bruising target man debuted in a 2-1 loss to Chivas USA on April 23, after which he started 13 of the next 14 matches, a stretch in which the Quakes went 4-3-7.
“I thought he was having a great year when he was playing,” Yallop said. “And then, obviously, the thing wore on him and he got a little bit worse and worse as it went on, then he said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’”
Since Lenhart decamped to join his family in Southern California — immediately following a 2-2 tie against Vancouver in which he failed to capitalize on a couple of golden chances — the Quakes are 1-6-5.
Yallop has remained in touch with Lenhart, who saw his teammates during their trip to face the LA Galaxy on Aug. 20 and also last month, when he came up for a couple days and participated in one training session.
“I think that it’s a tough year for his family and him,” Yallop said. “The club was fantastic — we just let him heal his way, if you like, really take the time to make sure he’s doing the right thing. Many [of my] conversations with him have been positive, and they get positive as you move forward. So hopefully, we can work it out.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes