SAN JOSE, Calif. — It looks as though the San Jose Earthquakes will have to try to find the bull’s-eye against New York this weekend without their biggest targets on hand.
Both Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon — a pair of classic, bustling center forwards — are listed as doubtful by the Quakes for their Saturday match at Red Bull Arena (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), each hampered by a hamstring injury. Neither player practiced with the team on Tuesday.
Given that the often-injured Gordon has recovered from two surgeries over the last eight months, it’s unlikely that he will make the New York trip after tweaking his hamstring in the Quakes’ 3-1 win last Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Ditto for Lenhart, who was pulled from the lineup earlier in the week after feeling some twinges in his hamstring during practice.
Gordon scores diving header vs. Whitecaps
“We have to be [careful],” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said of Gordon. “As much as you want to put him out there, you don’t want him to be out for six weeks.”
The double-whammy is especially painful for San Jose because of the important role the target men have played in Yallop’s offense. Both provide a critical outlet for goalkeeper Jon Busch, and their ability to hold up play affords their teammates a chance to get involved in a dangerous position.
“We tend to play a little better when we have a focal point to play into in [the form of] Alan and Lenny,” Yallop allowed Tuesday.
The numbers bear that out; since the start of the 2010 season, San Jose have scored 1.30 goals per 90 minutes with either Lenhart, Gordon or Khari Stephenson filling the role of a target man. Without a member of that trio in that spot, the Quakes average 1.08 goals per 90 minutes.
With Lenhart out and Gordon not ready for a full match, Yallop started Englishman Simon Dawkins as a second forward against Vancouver. That’s usually the domain of Chris Wondolowski, but the six-goal man moved up to fill the target role. The results were less than scintillating: San Jose generated no shots on goal in the first 38 minutes, when Dawkins slid over to the right wing and Tressor Moreno came on for an ailing Marvin Chávez.
The Quakes put one ball on frame with Wondolowski and Moreno paired up, but the attack didn’t come truly alive until Gordon arrived in the 52nd minute, replacing Dawkins. Moreno moved back to the midfield, Wondolowski took command of his usual post and within 25 minutes, San Jose had rammed home three unanswered goals — including a brace from Wondolowski bookending Gordon’s first tally this year — to complete a 3-1 comeback win over the Whitecaps.
To Yallop’s point of view, the offensive struggles were less proof of the importance of a target man and more a sign of poor play all around the field.
“I think we just generally didn’t play that well on Saturday, with a target man or not,” Yallop said. “I don’t think we moved the ball well. We were just stagnant in a lot of stuff.”
Yallop said Tuesday that if Lenhart and Gordon are indeed out, he could use Stephenson or even rookie Cesar Diaz Pizarro as a target man. Newcomer Sercan Güvenisik, whose pace and guile make him a threat to get behind defenses, is another option.
Noticeably left unmentioned was the idea of putting Wondolowski ahead of Dawkins or Moreno, although the 2010 Golden Boot winner seemed to welcome the idea of getting a do-over.
“I’ve just got to be better at it,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I know what to do. I knew where I should be and what I should be doing. I just didn’t do a good job of executing. My touch was a little bit off. I wasn’t able to lay it off and keep the possession for us. I could do better.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com.