SAN JOSE, Calif. — Among the new faces present at the San Jose Earthquakes’ training facility Monday, there was a familiar yet long-unseen shock of blond curls.
Steven Lenhart was back on the pitch.
Lenhart fit right in as the Quakes opened their training camp Monday, seeming to enjoy his first day back as a full member of the team since July, when he cut short his first season in San Jose and returned to his family’s Southern California home to deal with the aftermath of his father’s death. The 6-foot-1 target man missed the Quakes’ final 14 matches while on a family leave of absence, and San Jose wilted to a 3-6-5 finish without him.
“I’m feeling good,” said Lenhart, who scored five goals and notched three assists in 14 games last season. “I’m excited to be here, ready for a new season.”
Lenhart said there was no “A-ha!” moment where he instantly knew he had moved far enough past the death of his father, Gary, to move on and rejoin MLS on a new contract he signed this winter.
“It’s just been a very healthy time off for me just to regroup and kind of figure out what’s important for me,” Lenhart said. “I definitely used the whole six months.”
Quakes coach Frank Yallop, who has a deep and abiding affection for target forwards, said he was convinced that Lenhart was in great spirits and ready to put in work. Lenhart confirmed that by outlasting every one of his teammates in San Jose's first conditioning test, the notorious "beep test."
“He’s coming back to make an impact,” Yallop said. “He’s not coming back just to see how he does. He wants to do well in the league. That’s why we re-signed him. I had a lot of talks before, with Steven, [about] coming back. Obviously, we wanted to make sure everything’s clear and his mind’s great and he feels fantastic. It’s all good news. It’s like a new signing for us.”
Actually, it’s better - most new signings don’t have the kind of track record that Lenhart left behind. The bruising 25-year-old made a major impact in his brief time as a Quake last year, including recording just the fifth hat trick in San Jose history as part of a 4-2 win against D.C. United.
To Lenhart’s way of thinking, it won’t be hard to pick up where he had left off.
“Why not?” Lenhart said. “I’m the same guy. The same things drive me. I may not be the best, but I do want to be the hardest worker and try to be the best teammate, make others better. I don’t feel like I’m tricking anyone in how I play. I feel like I’m pretty straightforward and try to be honest in the way I play. So I’m pretty confident.”
Lenhart has always shown a relentless spirit on the field, but he feels this year he has the added incentive of bringing in unfinished business from 2011.
“For sure, yeah,” Lenhart said. “I don’t think I’ve peaked or I’m done working hard or scoring goals. It’s a new season and yeah, I’m looking forward to playing and fighting and battling and being on a team and definitely trying to win.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org