Gold Cup leaves Quakes with Wondo-sized hole to fill

As an employer, the San Jose Earthquakes couldn’t be more proud to see Chris Wondolowski — a San Francisco Bay Area native and legitimately humble Golden Boot winner — get rewarded for his efforts of the last 15 months with a call-up to the US national team for Gold Cup duty.

As a soccer team, however, the Quakes couldn’t be more pained.

After earning a spot in the Quakes’ first XI early last season, Wondolowski has been at the center of everything San Jose has done, the engine that powered them to a berth in last year’s conference finals. Taking him out of action for as many as four MLS matches is a significant blow for a team that has finally righted itself after an April meltdown pushed it to last place in the Western Conference.

Here are five Quakes who will become even more critical to San Jose’s chances in Wondolowski’s absence:

1) Steven Lenhart

At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Lenhart is already built like an ox. He should prepare to get treated like one as well, as the Quakes will likely look to hitch their offense to his broad shoulders.

Since stepping into the starting lineup on April 30, Lenhart has shown the kind of aerial dominance that made the Quakes so interested in his services to begin with. That’s not just in terms of scoring goals on his own — Lenhart’s still searching for his first official score as a Quake, after banging home a header off of Brandon McDonald’s lower back — but with regards to drawing in multiple defenders.

Wondolowski, with his ruthless ability to find and exploit open space, was a natural fit to take advantage of Lenhart’s skill set. Until the Quakes find a suitable replacement, Lenhart may be on his own at the tip of what becomes, for all intents and purposes, a 4-5-1.

2) Bobby Convey

With Ryan Johnson also on Gold Cup duty for Jamaica, Convey was already expected to reassume his old spot along the left wing. The Quakes could certainly use some of the skill and verve the former US international showed in compiling a career-best 10 assists last season.

A few more goals — such as the free-kick beauty Convey curled Saturday over the head of New England goalkeeper Matt Reis to clinch San Jose’s 2-1 victory over the Revolution — wouldn’t be turned down, either.

GOAL OF THE WEEK: Vote for Convey

3) Jon Busch

Some teams, such as the Galaxy last year, can watch their best offensive players (Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle) check out for several weeks on international duty and keep on piling up results.

The Quakes, on the other hand, depend so much on Wondolowski — he scored 52.9 percent of San Jose’s goals last year, the second-highest single-season mark in league history — that San Jose will put even more of a premium than normal on posting clean sheets.

That means Busch, who has made his share of spectacular saves already this year, will have to be at his sharpest to make sure San Jose doesn’t allow any cheap goals in the meantime.

SAVE OF THE WEEK: Vote for Busch

4) Scott Sealy

The oft-nicked veteran did not suit up Saturday because of a left hamstring strain, and his level of availability while Wondolowski is gone is anybody’s guess.

Coach Frank Yallop has tremendous faith in Sealy’s game and was pleased with the Trinidadian’s efforts as an attacking midfielder late last year. If Sealy is healthy, he might be the best fit as a running partner for Lenhart by floating underneath the target man and scooping up second balls left free by a scrambled defense.

5) Khari Stephenson? Joey Gjertsen? Ellis McLoughlin? Matt Luzunaris? Anthony Ampaipitakwong?

The Quakes take pride in having a deeper squad this year than at any time since their 2008 rebirth. This stretch of matches will put that theory to the test.

Given that Wondolowski is essentially irreplaceable, it might take just about every name on the roster to fill in for him.

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes