A franchise-record crowd of 22,831 at Red Bull Arena alternately cheered, whistled and stomped their feet during New York’s first playoff game in their new stadium.
But to Chris Wondolowski, it was the absence of sound – when it finally arrived – that stood out.
After 80 minutes of muzzling by the Red Bulls defense, Wondolowski stunned a crowd still rollicking over Juan Pablo Angel’s 78th-minute goal, which had tied the aggregate score in their Eastern Conference semifinal at 2-2.
With one well-placed header out of the reach of New York goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, Wondolowski brought a hush to almost everyone in the stands with his 10th game-winning goal on the year.
“Hearing it that quiet after I scored – besides our rooting section going nuts – was a surreal feeling,” Wondolowski said. “It was awesome.”
It was also redemptive for Wondolowski, who flubbed the Quakes’ best scoring chance in the first leg of the series by jamming his left-footed volley into the ground.
“Chris is a goal-scorer,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “He doesn’t always play the terrific [all-around] games that other players can do, but he’s always involved in the play, works hard for the team and he always has a chance of winning a game or scoring a goal for us. When it matters, he makes sure that he makes the runs and he finishes.”
Wondolowski said he wasn’t pressing, but if he had been, no one could blame him for finding the pressure of carrying the Quakes’ offense – he scored San Jose’s final 10 goals in the regular season, and 18 of 34 overall – to be a bit stifling.
“I think it’s too much pressure to put on one person, to expect somebody [to do it all],” Quakes midfielder Bobby Convey said. “He’s had a great year, he’s scored a lot of goals, but you can’t put so much pressure on one person. It’s extremely difficult to deal with when you feel like the whole world’s on your shoulders.”
Wondolowski said he didn’t lose faith, even though his touches were few and far between to start the match.
“You really can’t,” Wondolowski said. “It’s a 90-minute game and you never know when it’s going to be your chance, if it’s the first minute or the 90th minute. You just have to be ready to take it.
“That’s something I always try to pride myself on, staying in the game and working hard. I did a lot of defensive duties today because [New York are] so great offensively, but I knew that was going to be my chance, and I knew I had to make the most of it when I did.”
Convey helped make Wondolowski’s goal happen by spotting the forward breaking free and delivering a beautiful cross from some 40 yards away.
“I saw it pop up to Bobby, and I was kind of drifting in then, and he gave a look up,” Wondolowski said. “Once he had that look up, I knew he saw me and just kind of darted in the box.”
Wondolowski then darted the ball in with a header, and it was game – and playoffs – over for New York.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes.