SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In 2010, Chris Wondolowski scored 12 goals in his final 13 league matches for the San Jose Earthquakes. In 2011, it was eight goals in his last nine games. Down the stretch last season? Ten games, 10 goals.
Given that the Quakes had 12 dates left coming into their game Saturday against Chivas USA, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that Wondolowski announced his return from U.S. men's national team duty with a bang, bagging a brace to end a nearly three-month MLS drought and key the Quakes’ 2-0 victory at Buck Shaw Stadium.
A 45th-minute header and 87th-minute rebound capped a triumphant comeback for Wondolowski, who had last scored in San Jose colors on May 8. The 30-year-old, who now has seven goals on the season, missed the Quakes’ previous four matches while scoring five goals during the Americans’ victorious Gold Cup run.
“It was great for Wondo,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said. “He’s been away for a while and done really well with the national team, but I know he wanted to come back and make a contribution for us. And he did that very well tonight.”
In addition to all the Gold Cup travel, Wondolowski played 45 minutes in the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday in Kansas City and didn’t arrive back in the Bay Area until Thursday. He admitted it was difficult to watch the Quakes lose the first two matches without him before recovering to beat Seattle and Portland for their first winning streak of 2013.
“I’m telling you, I sure like playing them rather than watching them,” said Wondolowski, whose grandfather was in the stands to watch him play for the first time on Saturday. “I almost had a heart attack, pulling out my hair. I don’t know how fans do it. It’s crazy. I’m glad I could try to be a part of it. ... I’m glad I didn’t mess it up. We had two wins coming in, so I’m glad we could get another win and really get this thing moving.”
With three straight wins, the Quakes are finally moving in the right direction, even if they’re still stuck in eighth place in the Western Conference. If this is the first salvo in another late-season binge by Wondolowski, that might be enough to lift San Jose back into the top five -- making them a potentially dangerous postseason wildcard.
“I think when he’s playing well and he’s scoring, it’s a real boost for the team,” Watson said. “We know that even if we do concede a goal, when he’s on form and scoring regularly, he can pull us out of some tough situations.”
But to Wondolowski, the equation is actually reversed -- it’s the team’s performances that boost his play, rather than vice-versa.
“When we’re playing well, I can play well, because we create a lot of opportunities, a lot of chances,” Wondolowski said. “And that tends to ignite me a bit. . . . I think the way we’ve been playing can get us in [the playoffs]. That’s the great thing about this team, it’s not just one player who’s carrying us. It’s all 11 working for each other.”