Though the Philadelphia Union are still plagued by an inability to mount a consistent attack, the turning point in the team’s 2-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday was the late-game decimation of a seemingly stout back line by Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart.
Entering the match, keeper Zac MacMath and his teammates had strung together a club-record 332-minute shutout streak, effectively sealing off their goal since their visit to Chicago on March 24. With Philadelphia shutting down star striker Chris Wondolowski, San Jose head coach Frank Yallop turned the tide of the game by simultaneously substituting Lenhart and winger Marvin Chavez early in the second half.
“He’s really aggressive, he’s feisty, he’s good in the air,” said Union midfielder Amobi Okugo of Lenhart. “Wondo’s their key guy, so we focused on him. The back four did a great job of shutting him down. Lenhart somehow found a way, he’s good in the box, and he punished us.”
Not liking what he saw from his team’s attack, Yallop brought on Chavez and Lenhart in the 60th minute to create pace down the wing and wreak havoc in front of the net. Bringing them in early in a scoreless game allowed the pair to get comfortable and gauge the Philadelphia defense before striking.
Fifteen minutes later, Chavez held the ball up in the attacking zone, turned, and whipped in a cross that was met by Lenhart’s diving head and redirected into the center of the net. The shutout streak was done, capped at 408 minutes of play.
Said MacMath, “The first goal was tough – [Chavez] cut back, and Lenhart came in and had a free header. I’m not really worried about the streak, I’m worried about not getting the result tonight.”
After Gabriel Gomez netted his third of the season to draw Philadelphia level, it was again Chavez and Lenhart who linked up to twist the dagger into the hearts of the 18,541 Union faithful just before the final whistle.
Escaping midfielders Jack McInerney and Freddy Adu along the right sideline, the Honduran international played a long ball to Lenhart at the back post, whose floppy blond locks got their double by bouncing the ball underneath a diving MacMath.
“Afterwards, I thought maybe I should have come forward, but once again Lenhart had a free header, and he put it away,” said the keeper.
The forward, subject to a catcall from the stands because of his hair, also scored a brace at PPL Park after coming on as a substitute with the Columbus Crew in August of 2010.
Controlling the ball for barely 40 percent of the match, the Union know they must hold onto the ball and create sustainable offense, if only to preserve the legs and skills of their back line. Within their defensive streak, the team was only able to score twice themselves.
“If you look at the amount that we possessed the ball compared to San Jose, it was just not good enough,” said captain and central defender Danny Califf. “If we’re going to get out of this up-and-down thing and be successful over the long season, we’re going to have to establish better possession and make the other team run as much as we’re running.”