SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For so much of Sunday night, San Jose Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart hurled himself skyward in search of a long pass to flick onward, hoping to unlock a Portland Timbers defense that shut the Quakes down cold in Oregon last weekend.
Finally, with the last of his 20 attempted flick-ons, Lenhart struck gold. His header found rookie Adam Jahn, who delivered his own flick into the Portland box. Nana Attakora centered a looping ball, Chris Wondolowski delivered a sublime touch while shielding a defender and Jahn, teed up perfectly, slammed it home for a 92nd-minute equalizer to give San Jose a 1-1 tie.
“I mean, it’s ugly, but it was effective in that moment,” Lenhart said. “So, obviously, we were stoked. It was good.”
OPTA Chalkboard: Lenhart, Danso go blow for blow in the air
In the Quakes’ first of four games without suspended forward Alan Gordon, Lenhart served as the club’s beast of burden. He connected on six of his 20 flicks, according to Opta. The rest of San Jose’s roster was 4-for-12 in that category; Portland, by comparison, only attempted 10 and missed on all but two.
It was back-breaking work, sometimes literally, as when Lenhart banged and bruised with Portland defenders, especially Mamadou Danso, who received a yellow card for a challenge on Lenhart near midfield just before the half, eight minutes after Lenhart earned a booking of his own for a late challenge on Danso.
But it’s necessary work, especially for a San Jose team that began the season shorn of so many dangerous players by departure or injury. And when the Quakes fell behind for the sixth time in eight games this season, it began the all-too-familiar pattern of San Jose trying to ratchet up the pressure while the opposition works to hang onto their three-point bounty.
“Late in games, when teams are dropping deep, it’s very nice to have that [flick-on style], because they do drop deep, and you can’t find space behind,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “People like to call us a ‘smash style’ of soccer, but to be honest, I feel we adapt well. We can play that. We can get the ball down and possess it at times. We can get crosses in at times. We can play direct. I feel that we’re kind of like an amoeba style. We just adapt.”
Whether that amoeba will evolve into more involvement for Jahn will be a key question for this week, as the Quakes prepare to face Chivas USA at San Jose’s perennial house of horrors, the Home Depot Center. While Jahn is not a carbon copy of Gordon’s skill set by any means, his height does provide some advantages in the aerial game, along with his well-documented “pillow feet.”
“He’s a great player, dude,” Lenhart said of Jahn. “He gets in good spots and is really composed and finishes well. He’s effective.”
Whatever the lineup, Lenhart expects one thing to be constant: San Jose’s effort throughout the full 90 minutes -- and beyond.
“It’s good to push at the end of games and try to get a goal, be in their face and show them we’re not going to back down,” Lenhart said. “So however that looks, I thought the team did a good job of going [after a goal].”