By JOEY SAMUEL
He didn't even play half an hour, but Steven Lenhart's physical style of play in the box worked wonders on Saturday night as his two goals led the San Jose Earthquakes to victory over the Philadelphia Union.
After 75 minutes of mostly boring play from both teams, Lenhart broke the deadlock when he headed in a cross from fellow substitute Marvin Chavez. Gabriel Gomez equalized moments later for the Union, and Philadelphia looked capable of scoring a winner. But San Jose held on until stoppage time, when Lenhart got on the end of another Chavez cross to score again and give the Earthquakes a 2-1 away win at PPL Park.
San Jose, now all alone in first place in the Western Conference once again, controlled over 60% of the possession but were unable to capitalize for most of the game. Neither team managed to create any real chances until the final quarter of an hour, when the game opened up and both teams found the back of the net.
"We go up a goal and then concede one late in the game," said San Jose coach Frank Yallop. "To come back and score the winner, especially away from home, is very good. So we're happy as a club, and very pleased for Steven Lenhart."
Both teams took a long while before managing to create any offense. Newly signed German midfielder Kai Herdling made his debut for the Union, but at times looked lazy and his passes were frequently intercepted. Brian Carroll missed the game for Philadelphia, but Amobi Okugo filled in well for him and helped to break up San Jose's play.
Zac MacMath continued his shutout streak through to halftime, making several good saves in the first half. He denied Rafael Baca in the sixth minute, and parried away attempts from Khari Stephenson later in the half.
When the Union came out with more intensity in the second half, Yallop knew he needed to make a change, and in the 61st minute he made a double substitution. On came Lenhart and Chavez, and they ended up making quite the difference.
"Marvin and Lenhart have pace and power," Yallop said. "We wanted to give them enough time to get into the game. It changed the game for us. If we had kept what we were doing, I think we probably would have conceded a goal and probably not scored tonight."
Lenhart's diving header from Chavez's cross gave the Earthquakes the lead in the 76th minute, but it also seemed to wake up the Union. Jack McInerney and Danny Mwanga came on for Philadelphia, and in the 83rd minute, Mwanga held up the ball in the box and layed it off to Gomez, who slotted it past Jon Busch for the equalizer.
In the 90th minute, San Jose thought they had a winner when Ike Opara finished off a Lenhart attempt, but it was called offsides. Fortunately for the Earthquakes, it didn't matter, because moments later Lenhart scored an actual winner off another Chavez cross.
"It's a really tough loss, to lose a game like that in injury time," said Union assistant head coach John Hackworth, who was filling in for suspended Peter Nowak. "After fighting so hard to come back and equalize, it's just a tough one because you really feel you deserve at least a point."
It was the Union's second home loss, and it snapped a two-game winning streak. Lenhart's first goal also brought MacMath's shutout streak to an end at 410 minutes.
The Earthquakes, meanwhile, regained sole possession of first place in the West with their third away victory of 2012. While they may have gone under the radar as the season began, now few can question their position as a contender in the Western Conference.
"Any win is good, whether you take it on the road or at home," Yallop said. "We don't look at them any differently. Any time you can pick up three points on the road against whoever it is, is good for any club."
San Jose will look to continue their strong start next week when they host DC United next week. Philadelphia, on the other hand, will try to get back on track as they travel to Seattle to take on the Sounders.