In life, there are things that are easy, difficult, and downright impossible. Scoring more goals than Chris Wondolowski as a member of San Jose Earthquakes is proving to more closely resemble the third category than the others.
Since Wondolowski’s breakout season in 2010, he has finished as the team’s leading goal-scorer every year except one (Danny Hoesen, 2018), and it hasn’t been especially close.
In 2010, Wondolowski scored 18 for a team that reached the postseason. Nobody else scored more than three that year. In 2012, Wondolowski’s 27 paced the league and were more than the next two Quakes players combined (Alan Gordon – 13; Steven Lenhart 10). In fact, he’s scored at least seven goals more than any teammate every year between 2010-19 except for the aforementioned 2018 season (in which he still managed 10).
It’s been one of the biggest knocks on San Jose over the past decade: There’s too much pressure on Wondolowski to carry the team’s attack by himself. But things are changing and goals are coming from every corner of the roster.
Entering Wednesday’s match, the Earthquakes had gotten at least one goal from 13 different players on the roster, including then 16-year-old Cade Cowell and young fullbacks Marcos Lopez and Paul Marie. With Nick Lima and Tommy Thompson each finding the back of the net vs. LA, 15 of the 25 non-goalkeepers have now scored in just 18 matches this season.
One of the biggest contributors has been forward Andy Rios, who all of a sudden leads the team with five goals. Following Hoesen’s regular season-ending injury and the transfer of central midfielder Magnus Eriksson back to Sweden, Rios has had to take on a significantly more important role for San Jose’s offense and he’s rewarding those that believed in him.
“I think, like everyone, it takes time to adapt,” said head coach Matias Almeyda of Rios on Wednesday. “I think Magnus [Eriksson] was the only player that played every game with me. With the change, we knew it would take time. I think Rios has different characteristics than Magnus because he’s still a striker that gets in the box aggressively. He has a great vision for spreading the field. He’s a fighter like Magnus and it was always going to take some time for him to adapt. I think today we see the Andy that we wanted to sign.”
It’s not uncommon in Major League Soccer for new players to struggle to adjust when joining a team midseason. Rios, who made his debut last August, scored just once in 10 appearances in 2019. However, his goal on Wednesday was his fifth of 2020 and he’s now scored in three of the last four matches. He’s one of just two players in MLS with at least three goals and one assist in the month of October, joining Inter Miami CF’s Lewis Morgan.
Despite his individual accolades, Rios maintains he cares more about the team’s success than his own and is happy about the team’s recent form.
“I am very happy at the moment, but I am also thankful and excited for what we’re doing as a team,” Rios said postgame. “We are all growing and I think it’s not only reflective in tonight’s victory, but also in our overall recent performances. We will work hard to continue this run.”
San Jose has won four of its last five matches, picking up 12 vital points in that span. With the recent run, the Quakes have surged from the bottom of the Western Conference to seventh. And not only are they above the playoff line, but they’re also within reach of a top-four seed and home playoff game. Points-wise, the Earthquakes are closer to fourth place (one point) than they are to ninth (two points).
“I think that the team is very confident, and we want to make a push,” explained Wondolowski. “I think that making the playoffs is first and foremost. We want to do that. We want to do that any way, shape, or form. I think that we learned a lot from last year, and I’m hoping we learned a lot from our mistakes. We can’t rely and depend on the last day… We have to be smart. We have to get points where we can. That being said, we want to host. We want to be in the top four. I think that’s in our sights right now, where we want to be, and where we think we can be. We have a lot of work that we still need to do. I still think there’s a lot of points out there, but I think that’s a reasonable goal.”
Sunday’s match vs. Seattle Sounders FC kicks off from Earthquakes Stadium at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC Sports California, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.