SANTA CLARA, Calif. – San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop remains unswerving in his support of forward Steven Lenhart.
But even Yallop knows something has to give with regards to Lenhart, the polarizing forward who on Wednesday received a two-game suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
“I’m 100 percent behind [Lenhart], but he has to change,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com before training on Thursday. “And I think he knows it. I know it. The team needs him to change.”
Lenhart was hit with the ban after twice delivering a boot to the face of Chivas USA defender Mario de Luna in the 68th minute of the club’s 2-2 tie last Saturday (video above). That incident came after Lenhart’s multiple confrontations with Portland captain Will Johnson during the Quakes’ 1-1 tie against the Timbers on April 21, leaving Yallop to admit this week that he’s “had a lot of phone calls back and forth over the last couple of games about Steven.”
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The key for the Quakes is figuring out how to rein in Lenhart’s combativeness without compromising his performance. This becomes a thorny question because one of the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder’s biggest strengths is his willingness to throw himself at any and every long ball hit his way – a style that inevitably leads to physical clashes.
“You don’t want to take away his natural aggressive play in the right areas, but we’ve got to cut out the off-the-ball and the after[-play] stuff,” Yallop said. “We had a good chat about it, and he’s going to work on that.”
Lenhart, whom the team did not make available to the media Thursday, will have to be on his best behavior when he returns – presumably May 11 at Seattle, when his suspension ends.
Chris Wondolowski was emphatic in sharing his feelings that Lenhart is being watched more closely by the league than the average player, and Yallop agreed.
“I said it [to Lenhart], ‘The league are watching you every week, and any little thing you do, they’re going to pick up on and ... if it’s correct, they want to suspend you,’” Yallop said.
With Lenhart and Alan Gordon both suspended for the Quakes’ home matches against Montreal on Saturday and Toronto next Wednesday, rookie target man Adam Jahn will get the first crack at playing alongside Wondolowski, who offered a strident defense of Lenhart.
“People will soon find out that Lenny’s one of the best soccer players in this country,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “He likes to bang around, he’s physical, but he also has some great feet, is a serious threat in the box and I wouldn’t rather play with anyone else.”