It’s always concerning when your leading scorer goes through a slump, even if the causes are fairly evident.
Little-known Chris Wondolowski made a name for himself in April and May by scoring five goals in six matches, but he has been off the board in his last eight appearances. Things got so bad that on Saturday against Seattle, coach Frank Yallop replaced the Bay Area native — his first time out of the lineup in 14 matches — with Scott Sealy. It didn’t make a difference, as San Jose lost 1-0.
And with Sealy questionable for Saturday’s game after suffering a strained right thigh – the coach is not counting on him to play – Yallop will probably go back to pairing Wondolowski with Cornell Glen in a search for offense. But Yallop knows simply throwing Wondolowski back into the fray won’t solve the major underlying reason why the goals have dried up.
“He thrives on service,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com of Wondolowski. “And when our wide guys and our center guys maybe don’t create as much as we’d like …”
Yallop didn’t finish his sentence, but he might have concluded with “… that’s how your best finisher doesn’t score for more than two months.”
Of Wondolowski’s six goals, two have come from infiltrating empty space at the back post on set pieces where the Quakes send it in short, drawing defenders and flick the ball on. It’s one of their favorite methods of attack. Three more were set up by Wondolowski making a run and then being fed the ball inside the box. The last was a penalty – although the PK was forced by Wondolowski making yet another run.
There’s no doubt Wondolowski hasn’t been finishing with the same clinical precision as before, but he has also been the one who has suffered the most due to the Quakes misfiring badly in terms of generating service since Andre Luiz went out with a torn PCL in June.
“I’ve never been a player to create a lot of my own chances,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I feel that I can create my chances in the runs I make and trying to get open.”
Yallop said he replaced Wondolowski—a move he admitted this week could have been a mistake—hoping it would be a refreshing break for the 27-year-old.
“I told him he just got a little stale,” Yallop said. “That sounds like a bad word, but it’s not. It’s a refreshing thing. It’s come out to go back in. He understood. I just said, ‘You’re not firing on all cylinders right now, as you were at the start of the season. Let’s get you back there.’”
It’s natural for a player to suffer a letdown, motivationally speaking, when their level of success tails off. So Wondolowski is taking pains to avoid such a situation.
“It’s definitely frustrating if you’re not keeping the ball or if you make a 30-yard run and we lose it,” Wondolowski said. “But you can never get in that mindset. Once you get in that mindset where it’s, ‘I’m not going to make a run,’ it hurts not only yourself but your teammates. You can’t win a game like that.”
Yallop said he felt Wondolowski’s problems stemmed more from a drop in confidence than anything else, but the player says it’s not the case.
“I’ve never oozed with confidence, but I’m always a confident person, in my mind,” Wondolowski said. “Anytime I touch a ball, I think I’m going to score. Even if I haven’t scored in the last 1,000 shots, I know this one is going in, upper 90. I just try to keep that mindframe and always keep it positive.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes