San Jose forward Steven Lenhart is a pest, at least from the standpoint of Major League Soccer defenders.
He bumps and talks and goads. And if a foe loses his cool for even a moment, it can all pay off.
So it did Saturday, when Lenhart drew a penalty kick, which teammate Chris Wondolowski converted into the only goal of a 1-0 win over Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field.
The kick came after Lenhart went down after contact with Seattle defender Marc Burch.
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“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.”
Lenhart’s version was different.
“I was trying to get around the back side and Burch kind of (took) a cheap shot,” Lenhart said.
Lenhart and Burch had crossed paths earlier in the game. Then, in the 23rd minute, they collided, and Lenhart went down over Burch’s extended leg.
That drew a whistle from referee Mark Kadlecik. Wondolowski, the Golden Boot winner in 2010 as MLS’ top scorer, beat goalkeeper Michael Gspurning for his fourth goal of the season.
“In a penalty you also have to be lucky,” Gspurning said. “I mean, I feel no pressure. The striker has the pressure. He has to score. On the other hand, of course, you can be the hero if you keep the penalty (out). It’s never easy to lose with the penalty.”
Seattle was the more dangerous team the rest of the way. The Sounders took as many shots in the second half – 12 – as San Jose took all night. However, San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch let nothing past him.
“Sometimes games go like that a little bit,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “ I thought they were a little better than us in the first half. From my angle, I didn’t necessarily think it was a PK. I thought it was sort of what they say in basketball when you initiate the contact kind of thing. I thought in the second half we were better.”
In the days leading up to the game, Schmid had talked to his players about Lenhart’s reputation, and stressed the need to resist distraction or retaliation.
“That’s Steven’s game,” Schmid said. “That’s what he does all the time. He does that all the time, and then afterwards he apologizes. That’s his thing.”
Burch, a veteran of eight MLS seasons, knew that too.
“He’s the kind of player that that’s exactly what he looks for for an entire season, and he got one,” Burch said. “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.”
An early season run of injuries had forced the Sounders to use unconventional lineups throughout. They began with a makeshift midfield, where Christian Sivebaek and Servando Carrasco got their first starts of the season in place of Brad Evans and Mauro Rosales.
The parade of new faces continued in the second half: Defender Jeff Parke made his season debut, replacing Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who left with a pelvic injury. Sammy Ochoa made his first appearance of the season, replacing Sivebaek. And Alex Caskey made his MLS debut, replacing Carrasco.
“(The missing players) are very important to our possession game, but I thought we were OK,” Schmid 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.”
San Jose moved to 3-1 on the season, while the Sounders ended their season-opening homestand at 2-1.
The game was played before a crowd of 38,458.
Seattle returns to action Saturday at D.C. United.