Chris Wondolowski-Mike Fucito partnership promises new look for San Jose

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It's a matter of hours until their season begins, and the San Jose Earthquakes still haven’t seemed to make the kind of high-impact acquisition that marked last winter.

Come Sunday night, Mike Fucito will get a chance to change that perception.

With Quakes target men Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart ruled out, Fucito is expected to start up top alongside reigning league MVP Chris Wondolowski when the Quakes host Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online). Even the 26-year-old – brought in from Portland mid-January at the cost of a second-round 2013 SuperDraft pick – admits it’s an unconventional front line.

Just don’t expect him to say it can’t work.

READ: San Jose lock up Wondo to Designated Player deal after record-setting season

For example, when Fucito can use his speed to get behind defenses, that should open up space for Wondolowski to fill. And as the Quakes know from last season’s 27-goal haul, getting Wondolowski the ball with a window to shoot, however brief, often leads to great results.

“On paper, it doesn’t seem like a likely [pairing], but I’ve played with small guys before, like playing with Freddy [Montero] in Seattle,” Fucito told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I think our styles actually complement each other pretty well, and we’re definitely starting to develop an understanding of Chris’ tendencies vs. my tendencies. I think we’re able to play off of each other and still be effective.

“Obviously, the size isn’t there, but I think we make up for it in other ways.”

The track record, though tiny, hints that Fucito may be correct. Both men scored a goal in each of the Quakes’ last two preseason matches against MLS competition – a 3-3 tie with the Timbers and a 2-1 victory against FC Dallas in Portland last month.

Those results helped allay any concerns for coach Frank Yallop.

“I know it’s preseason, but at least Mike will go into this game with confidence, as well as Wondo, that they can get their job done,” Yallop said.

READ: San Jose face painfully familiar scenario heading into season opener

One thing the absence of Gordon and Lenhart will do is force a tactical shift, something that should please the voluble critics who took potshots at the Quakes’ mode of attack last season.

“I just think the playing style has got to change a little bit,” Yallop said. “We can’t be hoofing balls up, or lifting many balls into the box that are not quite ready to be lifted because of the aerial ability we don’t have without Lenny and Gordo.”

For his part, Lenhart thinks the Quakes will be fine while he and Gordon continue to return from offseason surgeries.

“I have a ton of confidence in this team,” Lenhart said. “It’s not like ‘The Alan Show’ or ‘The Me Show.’ Wondo is the one scoring all the goals, and everyone else is just as good at playing their role. I think Mike Fucito is a great pickup, works hard and fits in great with the team. I’m excited to watch, man.”

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