DAY 11 (Aug. 11): Fans Wig Out For Lenhart
On Saturday, July 28, the San Jose Earthquakes gave away blonde wigs to the first 2,500 fans in attendance, honoring the competitive play and cult following of Azusa Pacific soccer alum Steven Lenhart.
Lenhart, who graduated from Azusa Pacific after leading the Cougars to the 2007 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship, is the third-leading scorer for the Earthquakes, who currently lead the Major League Soccer (MLS) Western Conference heading into Saturday night’s clash with third-place Seattle, and his aggressive style of play has turned the fifth-year forward into one of the league’s most polarizing players. Soccer Newsday’s Chris Enger hates him, and seemingly so do San Jose’s conference rivals, the Seattle Sounders. However, a style of play that has rewarded him with a team-leading seven yellow cards is also recognized as an element of San Jose’s success this season.
Upon hearing about the Earthquakes’ planned giveaway when it was announced a month prior to the event, Lenhart initially considered shaving his head as a joke the night before, but he thought better of it and instead simply enjoyed the evening.
“It was pretty bizarre looking in the stands and seeing all those yellow afros, but it was a pretty cool honor to be recognized even though it was for something weird like my hair,” recalled Lenhart.
It was a memorable night, indeed, as fan-favorite Lenhart scored a game-tying goal in stoppage time in his return from a four-game injury absence. His last-second goal salvaged a 1-1 tie for San Jose, which helped keep the Earthquakes atop the conference standings.
“To go in and compete and score a big goal to save a tie was pretty cool,” Lenhart said. “I know the fans weren’t there just to watch me, but there’s that level where people were noticing me and supporting me on the field, and to be able to come through for them and my team was exciting and cool.”
Three days later, in front of another 9,239 fans in a friendly match against the English Premier League’s Swansea City, Lenhart again came off the bench and scored a pair of goals in the final 10 minutes to rally San Jose from a 2-0 deficit and secure another draw.
“I am definitely feeling the support,” said Lenhart, who also won San Jose’s A&W Root Beer Float Chug-Off contest. “I love being supported, not just for how I play but for how I live. I definitely appreciate the relationships that have been built, and they’ve made me feel supported.”
Saturday’s matchup with Seattle is the first of 12 MLS regular-season games for Lenhart’s Earthquakes, which includes a Saturday, Sept. 15 visit to the Home Depot Center in Carson.
UPDATE (Aug. 12): Lenhart delivered another clutch goal in stoppage time Saturday, lifting San Jose to a 2-1 win over Seattle with a game-winning header off a corner kick just over a minute after Seattle had tied the game at 1-1, also in stoppage time.