Forty-five minutes into Sunday night’s 2-2 draw between the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy, this story was going to be about one thing: Omar Gonzalez’s outright domination of Steven Lenhart.
Lenhart is a bull, and quite obviously a lightning rod for criticism (the bulk of it justified, in my opinion). That does tend to obscure, however, that he’s actually a really talented target forward who actually doesn’t have to revert to the dark arts to get the best of most defenders.
But not on Sunday. Not in the first half, anyway. The Opta Chalkboard on the bottom left is Omar’s victorious headers in the first 45 minutes, 13 in total. In 12 of those, he was directly challenged by Lenhart, who won … none. You can see that in the chalkboard on the right – Lenhart didn’t win a single thing in the middle of the pitch.
If you want to know why the Galaxy outshot San Jose 11-2 in the first half, there’s your starting point.
If you want to know why San Jose came back into the game in the second half and started generating chances at their usual rate, it's pretty simple: They decided to play around Gonzalez instead of directly against him. Lenhart started drifting off the backline and into midfield instead of pressing higher up the pitch, the type of mid-game adjustment at which Frank Yallop excels (seriously, he doesn't get anywhere near enough credit as a tactician).
Lenhart also stayed closer to the sidelines, so that when he was going up for 50-50 balls, it'd be against the likes of Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant instead of Gonzalez.
Here's an example of how that worked out:
WATCH: Wondo hits the post after Lenhart flick
The irony here, of course, is that Lenhart drew the game-changing free kick by going up against Gonzalez for a 50-50 ball 15 minutes into the second half. It was the only time in the second half he attempted that, and the only time in the course of 90 minutes that it produced a postive result for the Quakes.
Whether it was a just result ... well, I'll leave that to the partisans on both sides to figure out in the comments section below.
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com