SEATTLE — Everyone in a Seattle Sounders uniform knew that they had to avoid getting baited by San Jose forward Steven Lenhart.
And all it took was one moment of weakness for Lenhart, who has a reputation around the league for his gamesmanship, to get the better of Seattle, drawing a penalty kick that was the difference in a 1-0 victory for the Earthquakes in front of 38,458 at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle defender Marc Burch, who moments earlier took what he described as an elbow in the back from Lenhart, stepped in front of the San Jose forward as he was making a run on a set play in the 23rd minute. Lenhart sold the contact well, the penalty kick was awarded and Chris Wondolowski buried the PK for the game’s only goal.
“It was my fault, 100 percent,” Burch said. “I went up for a header, he gave me a little elbow in the back, so he started running around the far post, and I just tried to jump into his path, and he sold it pretty well. I don’t think I swung, I don’t think I kicked him, I don’t think I tried to take him down on purpose, but I jumped in his path and I shouldn’t have.
“I have to be bigger than that, better than that. He’s the kind of player that that’s exactly what he looks for for an entire season, and he got one. I should be better than that. I’ve watched him enough, I’ve seen him enough, and it’s the same tricks every single game he plays. I don’t think it’s the best soccer, but that’s his game, that’s what he does.”
Schmid, who earlier in the week had warned of Lenhart’s, um, unique skill set, was less understanding of the call than was Burch, saying, “I didn’t think, from my angle, that it was necessarily a PK. I thought it was sort of what they say in basketball when you initiate the contact kind of thing.”
And on Lenhart, Schmid said, “That’s Steven’s game. That’s what he does all the time. He does that all the time, and then afterwards he apologizes. That’s his thing.”
Of course it would be missing the big picture to say that one moment alone cost Seattle the game. After scoring five goals in its first two games, The Sounders created plenty of chances but couldn’t put any of them away in its first loss of 2012.
“It was a goal, but this was not the only reason that we lost,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said.
Seattle had the better part of the possession early in the game, though San Jose’s goal seemed to energize the Earthquakes for the remainder of the half. The second half was nearly all Sounders — Seattle outshot San Jose 18-12 in the game and had six shots on goal to San Jose’s five — but none of Seattle’s chances found the net.
Plenty of credit for the shutout goes to Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch, who made several big saves. None was better than the diving stop he made in the 84th minute on a Fredy Montero shot that appeared destined for the far post.
“Sometimes games go like that a little bit,” Schmid said. “I didn’t think our first half was outstanding. I thought they were a little better than us in the first half. … I thought in the second half we were better. I thought we created obviously more chances in the second half. Busch comes up with a big save on the one shot. It just wouldn’t fall for us today.”
The Sounders came into the game without three starters — midfielders Mauro Rosales and Brad Evans and defender Adam Johansson — then lost center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado for the second half because of a pelvic injury. Those injuries certainly affected Seattle’s play, but Schmid still felt his team played well enough for a better result.
“Those three guys are very important to our possession game, but I thought we were OK,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a situation where the game was one-sided, or that they dominated the game over the 90 minutes. So I thought the guys did all right.”
The Sounders now head to Washington D.C. for its first road game of the season, and despite a home loss, Schmid and the players remain confident.
“We’re a team that’s confident in our offensive abilities and tonight I thought we created chances,” he said. “If we hadn’t created anything in the second half I’d be a lot more worried, or a lot more disappointed.”