San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski is starting to rival Forrest Gump with his ability to appear at just the right place and time.
Wondolowski did it again Saturday against Seattle, when he turned Bobby Burling’s aborted header into his fifth score of the season—the only goal in the Quakes’ 1-0 win over the Sounders.
“That was the difference: A clinical finish by Wondo and great defending by everybody,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “That’s a striker. It’s instinctual. It’s not something he thinks about. Quite a few strikers, they’re all able to dig the ball out and get a good finish, and Wondo’s no different. He’s finishing very well right now.”
When Joey Gjertsen sent in an 11th-minute cross from the right wing, Wondolowski headed to the left post. It didn’t seem like much of a run at the time, especially when the pass went short to Brandon McDonald.
But McDonald gave the ball a solid flick towards goal, forcing Wondolowski’s marker, James Riley, to abandon him in order to prevent the 6-foot-5 Burling from getting an unchecked header on goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Riley got enough of a bump on Burling to force a miss, but Wondolowski cleaned up with a flourish.
“I think [Riley] undercut him a little bit, so it knocked him off balance and sent the ball my way instead of on goal,” Wondolowski said. “Which I’m thankful for.”
For Burling, who elected to shoot unsuccessfully instead of passing to Wondolowski in the Quakes’ scoreless tie at New England on May 15, it went down as an assist. Even if it wasn’t quite deliberate.
“No, I did not intend to flick that on, but I’ll take it any way it comes,” said Burling, who allowed that the ball probably caught more of his left shoulder than his head. “They kind of did well to undercut me, get me off balance so I couldn’t get a clean header on it, and Wondo’s been in the right place at the right time with huge goals, and that’s what goal-scorers do. Credit to him for burying it.”
Wondolowski made sure to put his right-footed shot, taken off the bounce, was on target, slipping between a diving Keller and the near post.
“I think that [my eyes] were about as big as the moon,” Wondolowski said of his reaction to seeing the ball drop in front of him. “As a forward, I don’t think that [missing the net] can ever cross your mind. No matter whether I’m shooting from 45 or 2 yards out, I have to believe that I’m always going to make it.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes