Wondolowski Delivers for Quakes

With three San Jose strikers sidelined due to hamstring injuries, Chris Wondolowski stepped in

Chris Wondolowski 041710_Getty2

Photo Credit: 
Getty

To Earthquakes fans unhappy with his level of play in San Jose’s
penalty-kick loss to Real Salt Lake during U.S. Open Cup qualifying play
on Wednesday, backup forward Chris Wondolowski  offered very little in
the way of a rebuttal.

In fact, he agreed with all the criticism.

“I had a shocker,” Wondolowski said. “I was horrible.”

So
when Wondolowski was pressed into the starting lineup Saturday against
powerful New England in the wake of hamstring injuries suffered
Wednesday by Arturo Alvarez, Cornell Glen and Eduardo, it wasn’t hard to
envision another less-than-scintillating performance.

Instead,
Wondolowski turned in some of his best work since arriving back in San
Jose in the middle of last season, scoring the ice-breaking goal in a
2-0 victory that could have easily seen the Earthquakes post twice that
many goals.

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“He’s valuable,” Yallop said. “Chris just really
works hard every day in training, and when he gets his chance, he’s not
afraid to play and I think that’s a sign of a good pro.”

Maybe
all that talk emanating from the Quakes about their improved depth isn’t
just so much talk after all. At 2-1 in MLS play, they’re above .500 for
the first time since being re-formed in 2008 -- and they have a
two-match winning streak heading into next weekend’s road game against
1-3 Chivas USA.

“To be honest, this is one of the deepest teams
I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on some pretty good teams over in
Houston,” said Wondolowski, a Bay Area product who went with the
original Quakes when they became the Dynamo in 2006, only to be traded
home last June. “Each man, from 1 to 24, it doesn’t matter who we put in
there, I think they can do the job. We have that cohesion.”

Wondolowski
scored in the 57th minute to break through for San Jose, which
dominated possession for much of the evening in the absence of New
England midfielder Shalrie Joseph.

Joey Gjertsen fed Ryan
Johnson, who turned and broke into the Revs’ penalty area. Once there,
Johnson slipped a perfectly weighted pass between two New England
defenders. Wondolowski, having beaten his marker, ran onto the ball and
easily slotted it past Revs goalkeeper Preston Burpo.

“He’s a
great finisher around the goal,” Johnson said. “You’ve just got to give
him a chance, and he showed it tonight.”

Playing alongside
Johnson was a huge part of Wondolowski’s transformation from his
performance Wednesday. Against RSL, Glen went out in the 13th minute and
the Quakes opted for rookie Steve Beitashour instead of another
forward.

That left Wondolowski as a target forward alone up top, a
situation that’s never been his forte. Saturday, Wondolowski could fly
under the radar a bit while New England’s defenders took their whacks at
Johnson, San Jose’s leading goal scorer from last season.

“I
have to tip my hat to Ryan Johnson,” Wondolowski said. “That was an
unbelievable ball, and all I had to do was just tap it in, so I thank
him.”

Wondolowski and Johnson also teamed up to pester New
England’s back line, setting a tone defensively that translated into San
Jose’s best possession of the year, by far.

“They were great
tonight,” Yallop said. “They started the pressure high, and made it very
difficult to play against us. The way we played was more like what I
want. I think we now have an understanding of what it takes to shut
teams down here.”

Although Wondolowski was an irresistible
storyline, the win was emblematic of more than just one player’s
triumph. It was the kind of team-wide success that Yallop has been
searching for ever since he came back to San Jose.

There was
rookie Ike Opara’s second goal in as many games, again off of a feed
from Bobby Convey. There was Joe Cannon coming up with three saves in
injury time to record his first shutout of the season and 100th career
MLS victory. There was Convey saving a sure goal off the end line.

“The
all-around play was great,” Yallop said. “Very solid, very dynamic
going forward, I thought our passing was clean. I thought all aspects of
the game that I’ve really been focusing on [in training], they did.
They did a great job. Hopefully it propels us to a nice confident run.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be
reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.
Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.