Wondo just as clutch as ever in Quakes' playoff push

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Barring a record-setting spree to close the year, 2013 will mark the first time in four seasons that Chris Wondolowski’s name won’t be at the top of the MLS goal-scoring charts.

Yet even as Wondolowski’s goal total has slipped from 27 – tying the league’s all-time single-season mark last year – to just 10, the San Jose Earthquakes star still leads the league in game-winning goals. Seven of Wondolowski’s strikes have proven to be the difference in victories as the Quakes (13-11-8) have kept alive – and even strengthened – their playoff hopes.

“Chris Wondolowski has scored 10 goals, with seven game-winners,” Quakes general manager John Doyle said this week. “That’s unbelievable, to do that. . . . We always say, ‘You never take him off the field, because he will get a chance, and he will score.’ He misses a chance, but then he gets a chance in the 90th minute, and then he scores. For me, I think he’s had a phenomenal season.”

The Quakes are coming off back-to-back 1-0 wins powered by Wondolowski goals, which represent part of a 4-0-1 streak that San Jose will ride into the StubHub Center to face the LA Galaxy on Sunday (9 pm ET; ESPN).

“He does step up to the plate and make big plays when we really need it,” San Jose midfielder Rafael Baca told MLSsoccer.com after Wondolowski finally pierced the defense of Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin last week. “The ball just wasn’t going in. The ‘keeper was making some crazy saves. In those times, we do need Wondo, or [other] guys up top, to step up.”

Wondolowski described his season as “a bit frustrating” and feels he “definitely left some goals out there.” He also said he might not have hit a more important goal with the Quakes than the one against Colorado in their 1-0 win on Oct. 9, which allowed San Jose to pull within a point of the Rapids for the fifth and final playoff spot with two games remaining.

“The only one that comes to mind is the New York playoff one [in 2010], because it’s the playoffs,” Wondolowski said. “This is pretty important, just a tight time of the year and a time where we need goals.”

Wondolowski said the credit for his haul of game-winners belongs just as much with the Quakes’ resurgent defense, which has often times made his work stand up. And there is some truth to that: in five of the seven matches won via Wondolowski goals, San Jose has posted a shutout.

Yet Wondolowski has brought home three points in the final 10 minutes of regulation or beyond on three different occasions this year – against New York (March 10, 92nd minute), Toronto (May 8, 81st) and at Chivas USA (Sept. 29, 87th).

“Wondo’s scored some big goals for us, and tonight was no different,” interim coach Mark Watson told reporters after the Colorado match. “Wondo just has that knack of being in the right place at the right time, and he’s a fantastic finisher.”

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