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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.