With Reggie Jackson long retired and Derek Jeter’s season just ended, maybe it’s time for San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski to appropriate the nickname of “Mr. October.”
Last year, Wondolowski nipped LA Galaxy’s Edson Buddle at the post in the MLS Golden Boot race, scoring six of his 18 goals in the final month of the regular season to win the league’s scoring crown by a single tally.
Thanks to his game-winning brace in Saturday's 2-1 win at New England, Wondolowski pulled into a three-way tie atop the leaderboard with 14 goals, the same total as New York’s Thierry Henry and D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario.
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Wondolowski has three goals this October, with two matches left - at Seattle next week, and home against FC Dallas in the regular-season finale on Oct. 22.
“Hopefully, I can pull it out,” Wondolowski said. “I know Dwayne’s got a bunch of games left. Thierry also. I know I’m going to have to do some work in the next two games.
It’s a good thing for Wondolowski the Quakes and Revolution pushed this match back from its original date of Aug. 3 because of schedule congestion. Beginning Aug. 27, Wondolowski has now scored in five of San Jose’s last seven matches. Prior to that, he was in a prolonged dry spell.
“Obviously, it’s what Wondo does,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “He had two great finishes and I thought he could have had another one [in the] second half. That’s Wondo. He’s back to his best.”
Wondolowski’s first goal Saturday was one of his most difficult of the season, at least in terms of the setup.
Barely seven minutes into his first career MLS match, rookie goalkeeper David Bingham found himself under pressure in his own box from New England forward Diego Fagundez. Rather than simply dumping possession, however, Bingham had taken note of the fact that the Revolution defenders were pushing dangerously forward and launched a deep ball in hopes of finding Wondolowski at the other end.
Sensing an opportunity, Wondolowski snuck behind Revolution defender Ryan Cochrane, stuck out his right foot and somehow brought down the 75-yard pass softly enough that he could run onto the first bounce and rip it far post past New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
“I know that Bing has great distribution,” Wondolowski said. “I watched the ball, so I was kind of ready for it and timed the run. He put it right there. Getting the ball there is half the work. I just had to bring it down and finish it.”
Yallop wasn’t surprised by the show of skill.
“He’s good, on the run, bringing the ball down and getting a shot off,” Yallop said. “It’s not a play that he practices, he’s just got a good first touch. And he’s got a good finish on him, as we know.”
Wondolowski proved that again in the 82nd minute, when he nodded home a feathered cross from Sam Cronin to close out an impressive buildup by the Quakes and give them just their second win since June 11.
The last pair of matches will decide if Wondolowski has a shot at repeating as the league’s top scorer, something that’s only happened once before in league history. Carlos Ruiz carded 24 goals in 2002 for the Galaxy, then tied Taylor Twellman the following year on 15.
“It’s just what goalscoring does. It comes in streaks,” Wondolowski said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s just one of those things where sometimes you hit them and they go in, sometimes you hit them well and they don’t go in. I went through a dry spell in the middle of the year and have just been fortunate in October the last two years.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes