Versatile offense keys 'Quakes' run

June 17, 2011, 3:51 am
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June 16, 2011MLSSCOREBOARD EARTHQUAKESPAGE
PREVIEW: Quakes seek more of the same vs. K.C.
Nick Rosano CSNBayArea.com

SAN JOSE No matter the sport, itwill always take new teammates a good deal of time to get fully in sync. Now,though, the Earthquakes have forged an efficient offensive corps despite the factthat many of its players have little experience playing together up top.Whether its midfielder Khari Stephenson adapting to a new role up top orEnglishman Simon Dawkins easing his way back from injury, the team hascontinued to find different ways to score as it enjoys its best run of form inyears.

Particularly key has been the emergence of Steven Lenhartand Simon Dawkins at a vital time in the teams season. Since star forwardChris Wondolowski has left to join the U.S. national team for JunesCONCACAF Gold Cup, Dawkins and Lenhart have combined for all the goals in theEarthquakes two previous wins.

"The confidence is there now that were starting to put theball into the back of the net, Dawkins said.

ROSANO: Lenhart, Dawkins guiding Earthquakes

Also factoring into the equation is Stephenson, who has beenutilized in the past by head coach Frank Yallop as both a central and rightsided midfielder. However, with the depature of Wondolowski and Dawkinsrecovery from injury, Yallop has moved Stephenson further up the field intowhat could best be described as a withdrawn forward position, providing abetter connection between Lenhart and the teams midfielders.

While Stephenson initially looked out of sorts in his firstforay into the position in a June 4 game against the Houston Dynamo, he learnedquickly and in last weekends game at D.C. United combined very well withLenhart. Stephenson provided an assist for the Lenharts first goal with adefense-splitting pass and moments later powered in a shot that the D.C. goalkeeperwas unable to save, allowing Lenhart the easy finish.

We went over a lot of things that he did in the first gameand talked about what hes got to do better in the second game and he did, Ithought he did great, Yallop said.

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However, Stephenson picked up a minor injury just a coupleminutes into the second half, forcing Yallop to play his hand early and bringin Dawkins. The young Englishman made an immediate impact, though, playing asmart give and go with Lenhart before poking the ball past the onrushinggoalkeeper to net what would stand as the winning goal. Dawkins drew praise from Yallop, with the Earthquakes coachsaying, Simons a really bright footballer, so whatever situation he is in, heworks out how the best way of getting out of it. It either means going to goaland getting a chance or just keeping it in certain areas. Prior to the 2011 season, the Earthquakes acquired bothDawkins and Lenhart. Dawkins was brought in on loan from English Premier Leagueoutfit Tottenham Hotspur, while Lenhart was acquired from the Columbus Crew fora first round draft pick in the 2011 Super Draft. Its nice to see when you pick up a striker that you hopeis going to score your goals ends up doing that, said Yallop, of Lenhart. WondoWondolowski we picked up and hes done great. I think Lennys on that type ofrun, maybe not that many goals, but Id like to think he can get into doubledigits for this season, and I think in the long run hell turn into a reallygood, all-rounded striker.
Dawkins believes that being able to play alongside Lenharthas really helped his game. Lenhart is known for using his big frame andaggressiveness to hassle opposing defenders and create space for his teammates.
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It makes it so much easier for me, Dawkins said. Heskeeping three defenders occupied, which creates a lot of space for me. Im justreally happy that Im playing with him right now. While someone might have to lose their starting spot whenWondolowski returns to the lineup at the end of the month, the versatility ofoptions up front means Yallop can be at ease resting some players to keep theteam fresh as July and August drag on. For now though, Stephenson will keep hisspot in the starting eleven alongside Lenhart, so long as he is fit to play. If Kharis good to go hes playing, said Yallop, followingTuesday mornings training session. The teams newfound wealth of options up top has addressedperhaps the biggest question of the offseason, how to augment Wondolowskisgoalscoring endeavors. Going forward the depth of options could prove vital inany late season run. While there is still over half the season to play, thereis more and more reason to believe the team could make a return trip to theplayoffs. For more Earthquakes, MLS and soccer musings, youcan follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

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