SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart, tied for second on the club with six goals this year, will miss Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash against Real Salt Lake (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) due to what has been diagnosed as concussion symptoms.
Lenhart, who skipped the Quakes’ trip to Dallas last weekend to rest and recuperate, will be out of coach Frank Yallop’s starting lineup for a third straight match, with Alan Gordon likely taking his place as San Jose (11-4-4) tries to hold or extend their one-point lead over RSL (11-6-3).
“Having Lenny missing, it’s a huge [piece],” Quakes star Chris Wondolowski said. “He’s just a great player and he does definitely soften up defenses. Gordon’s able to step right in and he’s a great player, able to provide a lot of those attributes, but it’s just not the same as having both of those guys. Having Lenny go as hard as he can for 70 minutes and then having Gordon go as hard as he can for 20, that’s a great combination to have.”
There is no official timetable for when Lenhart could return, since it depends on the concussion symptoms abating. However, Yallop sounded a hopeful note after training Friday, saying Lenhart is “feeling a lot better, so he’s pretty close. We don’t want to take a risk with him right now, but he’s feeling better every day.”
Lenhart has taken a pounding this year, partially by design; as a 6-foot-1, 190-pound target forward, Lenhart is tasked with making numerous aerial challenges on 50-50 balls. He’s also a fearless presence in the opposing penalty area, thus drawing plenty of physical attention from defenders.
But things have taken a turn since the early part of the season, as complaints lodged by opposing fans and coaches reached a crescendo in the wake of two game-changing calls drawn by Lenhart – one good for a penalty kick at Seattle on March 31, the other leading to a red card against RSL’s Jamison Olave on April 21 on a breakaway.
In his first five regular-season appearances in 2012, including both the Sounders and RSL matches, Lenhart drew fouls at a rate of 2.61 per 90 minutes.
Since then, he’s only gotten 1.85 calls per 90 minutes, a drop of nearly 30 percent. And the numbers become even more pronounced recently: 1.47 fouls per 90 minutes in the team’s last four outings, a nearly 44 percent decrease.
Additionally, in those games, Lenhart has been called for committing 3.67 fouls per 90 minutes, a jump of 27 percent over the rest of the season.
“I think there’s no question that Lenny isn’t protected,” Quakes center back Jason Hernandez said. “I think he has a bad reputation, for whatever reason, and like you see in other sports, Lenny doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt more times than not. Just because he’s a big, physical forward and he seems to frustrate defenders doesn’t mean he isn’t being fouled, or the calls shouldn’t be made.”
Said Wondolowski: “I couldn’t imagine taking the beatings he gets.”
The hardest hit that Lenhart has suffered this season came June 26 in a contentious 1-0 victory by Seattle in a US Open Cup quarterfinal at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Lenhart, who came on in the 54th minute, was chasing after a long, lofted lead pass when he was bowled over in Seattle’s penalty box – a move which angered plenty of Quakes.
“Patrick Ianni came in and just kind of blindsided [Lenhart] and gave him one,” said Wondolowski, who reacted vehemently at the time. “[Lenhart] was just tracking the ball the whole way, going into the box. Ianni saw that, and I felt that he saw it was an option to get a shot in. I’m all for tackling hard and fighting, but I felt that crossed the line a bit.”
There is some good news for San Jose on the injury front: they will regain the services of midfielder Simon Dawkins, who has been shelved since June 23 with a sprained left shoulder. Dawkins practiced Thursday and Friday with no problems and should be available as a substitute.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.