SAN JOSE, Calif. — Chris Wondolowski returned to his home turf this week, determined to apply the best parts of his four-week Gold Cup stint as a member of the United States national team to his work with the San Jose Earthquakes.
And hopefully, a few quick goals with the Quakes will help the 2010 Golden Boot winner put to rest the worst parts of his experience: the goals that got away.
“Very frustrating,” Wondolowski said of being unable to come up with a score during his three appearances for coach Bob Bradley, which included an infamous open-net miss from four yards in the latter stages of a group-stage loss to Panama. “[It’s a] big regret, not finishing them. Some of those chances, I definitely feel that I should score, 99 out of 100 times. I didn’t step up at the right time. It’s just one of those things that you play back in your mind a million times.”
Wondolowski will get his first chance to create some better memories on Saturday in a nationally televised game against New York (10:30 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) before an expected crowd of more than 30,000 fans at Stanford Stadium.
“It’s nice to have him back,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “[We’re] excited to have him. … For Bob to play him and put faith in him was good for Chris.”
Wondolowski said the month-long experience will help make him a better player, which is great news for the Quakes, who are still at 5-5-5 on the year despite their run of good form in May and June (5-1-3).
“As a player, I learned a lot of little nuances about the game, creating space, where to check in, where to check out, how to play with some of the best players in the world,” Wondolowski said. “I got to play with them and I think that helped me learn how to be a true professional. [It’s] just one of those experiences where I think it’ll help me.”
The good news for Wondolowski is that — perhaps defying the expectations of some around the league — the Quakes’ offense didn’t implode with him gone. San Jose went 2-1-1 in Wondolowski’s absence, scoring six goals — although four came at the expense of an overwhelmed D.C. United back line.
“We’ve done well without him,” Yallop said. “Yes, we’ve got to get some more wins under our belt, but I think the signs are good that we can continue and do fine.”
Yallop said that he hoped Wondolowski can step immediately back into the starting lineup, which shouldn’t be a problem, fatigue-wise, if Wondolowski’s full participation in training on Tuesday is any indication.
Wondolowski could be used on the right wing, which has seen a cavalcade of starters over the course of 15 matches. Or he could slot between target man Steven Lenhart and shifty playmaker Simon Dawkins in the center of the field.
That second arrangement could be more likely if midfielder Khari Stephenson is unable to play. Stephenson missed Tuesday’s practice after he and LA Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts knocked each other out of Saturday’s match with a frightening, full-speed collision that left the former unable to remember the ensuing 10 minutes and the latter with a broken left forearm.
On the other hand, the Quakes are unbeaten (2-0-2) when pairing Lenhart with Wondolowski up top.
Regardless of the position, though, Wondolowski's return will bring an energy to the club.
“It’s exciting,” Lenhart said of Wondolowski’s return. “He expects a lot from himself and he’s intense and wants to win. I love playing with him. It’s only gonna help.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes