What must it have been like to be Steven Lenhart, out of contract with the Quakes at the time, watching Alan Gordon wearing an LA Galaxy jersey lifting aloft the MLS Cup? The words "I’m very pleased for him" might well have been forthcoming if the question had been asked in an interview.
The fact is that these two are such good friends off the field (and that’s unlikely to change just because they now play for rival teams) that it’s a pretty safe bet Lenhart really was pleased for Gordon.
With Lenhart now signed for 2015, what can the Quakes' fans expect to see from him next season? From an onfield point of view, more of the same in a slightly different context would seem likely. If he can dodge any further knee or other injury, expect to see him leaping to head the ball on for the final striker to run in on goal. Or, with his back to the goal, shielding the ball, getting battered by packs of anxious defenders, each of whom must seem to him to have four legs and six elbows, waiting to play that vital pass back to the advancing front line. Or else, holding the ball up before spraying it wide to the wing and then running hell for leather into the area, to try and get a foot, a head (a knee would do), anything to steer the ball into the net.
It’s very understandable new San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear said he was happy to sign Lenhart to a new deal with the Earthquakes. Kinnear’s task is daunting. The pressure of expectation from the fans, the players, and the front office to turn around a team that just had the worst season in its history must be intense. In such situations a man needs some familiar things around which to build a new team.
Kinnear has already coached Wondolowski and Wondo and Lenny already have their radar developed for each other’s position on the field; this will be vital as they learn Kinnear’s new game plans.
That Kinnear needs to rebuild the team is clear. The old 2012 team are already consigned to the pedestals of the history books, the magic of that season has up and left town big time in the two seasons following the Quakes Supporters’ Shield win.
One thing Kinnear knows how to do though is build a team with stability and real prospects for ongoing success and perhaps more importantly, given how much the Quakes have spent on a new stadium and some largely ineffectual signings, he knows how to do it without having the big money to throw around.
The Quakes will need some grounding and Lenhart could be just the guy to do that. Kinnear has a proven track record for recognizing valuable players, players who perhaps might be better deployed on the field than they have been in the past.
Think of some of the players Kinnear has helped to develop over the years, from Brad Davis to Landon Donovan to Geoff Cameron to Stuart Holden, Brian Ching, Bobby Boswell, Ricardo Clark and Dwayne De Rosario. The list is impressive, imagine Kinnear taking Lenhart to new stratospheric levels of excellence; it could happen.
With Lenhart acting as the fulcrum in front of goal, he could be the focal point from which the new San Jose offense will launch itself at unsuspecting, perhaps smug defenses, in the coming season.
With his reputation for physical play preceding him, Lenhart will likely still be battered by defenders, abused by opposing fans, and victimized by referees. But in the past couple of years he's matured as a player, he’s less likely to lash out at players who have clobbered him, or get overly verbal with officials he feels have unfairly chastised him, he now has something of the stoic determination of a seasoned warrior.
The hair might be gone but this Samson-in-reverse seems all the stronger for that.
The really interesting thing is going to be seeing Lenhart and Gordon going head-to-head, toe-to-toe next season should they both play in the first California Classico of 2015. Now that is going to be something worth the price of admission!