SAN JOSE, Calif. – Back in 2010, when Chris Wondolowski first assumed the role of the San Jose Earthquakes’ primary penalty kick taker, the plan seemed to be a little single-minded: Hit it as hard as possible.
And while that may still be Wondolowski’s favorite method of taking a spot kick, it’s no longer his only plan of attack. For confirmation, you might ask New York City FC goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who was left stranded in the 76th minute on Saturday when Wondolowski waited out his dive and then coolly slotted the ball in the opposite corner for his 15th goal of the 2015 MLS regular season.
San Jose’s captain is now 6-for-6 from the spot this year – leading NYCFC’s David Villa, Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber and Chicago’s Jeff Larentowicz, who have all connected on five PKs – after going 12-for-16 in the previous six seasons combined.
“It’s something I work on,” Wondolowski said of his PK form. “I usually work on it every day. I at least take a couple and try all different things, different sides, different techniques. You have a shot from 12 yards, you should make it.”
Wondolowski, who missed his final PK of 2014, also had two PKs denied out of seven taken during his 27-goal campaign in 2012. If not for saves that year by Andy Gruenebaum and Kevin Hartman, Wondolowski would have sole ownership of MLS’ single-season scoring record.
As the years have gone on, the 32-year-old has embraced the mental side of the spot-kick routine.
“A lot of different things go into it,” Wondolowski said. “Obviously, I do my research; I know that they do theirs. Some of it has to do with reading the ‘keeper at that time. Some of it is already premeditated, and I know what I’m going to do with it. And then sometimes I feel like I can beat them with the pace of the ball and just try to strike it. I usually try to pick one before I go up there.”
All things being equal, Wondolowski would still prefer to use force rather than guile.
“I’d rather smash it, watch it hit the back of the net and come rolling back,” Wondolowski said. “That’s the best. But anything across the line is a good one.”
The Quakes (11-12-7) would love to see Wondolowski add to his career PK goal total – which is already a team record – against Real Salt Lake on Sunday (7 pm ET, FS1). With RSL having won two straight and three of four heading into Avaya Stadium on Sunday, the Quakes won’t have a pushover on hand as they try to chase down the likes of Portland, SKC or Seattle and sneak into the Western Conference playoffs.
“I told the guys after the game [against NYCFC, a 3-2 defeat], I was like, ‘Look, this is a bad result, we’re obviously disappointed, but if you look around and you want to gander at people’s schedules, everybody’s playing everybody and it’s going to be hard for teams, I think, to pull away in this gap,’” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters. “That’s why I said, ‘Of course we can make the playoffs.’ There’s no doubt that we can make the playoffs. First things first, we have to win our games, and then you watch what happens.”
With 101 goals since 2010 under his belt but only two playoff appearances during that timeframe – the last coming in 2012 – Wondolowski knows full well the pain of finishing below the dreaded red line.
“It’s always a wasted year if you don’t make the playoffs,” he said. “Every year, if you don’t win the championship. There’s always one team that’s happy and 19 others that aren’t. That’s what makes this game fun, and why you have goals and set these stepping stones along the way. First and foremost, you have to make the playoffs, and if you don’t then, yeah, it’s always a wasted year. Because that’s your goal. You play to win.”