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Leg 1
11/23 FINAL
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0SEA
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11/30 9:00pm
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LA
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NY
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Eastern Conference Championship

Chris Wondolowski returns, but is it in time to save the San Jose Earthquakes?

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Chris Wondolowski has been the face of the San Jose Earthquakes’ franchise since his first Golden Boot campaign in 2010, but one can argue he’s never been needed to carry the franchise quite like this.

Wondolowski returned from a six-game absence on World Cup duty with the US national team to find San Jose had slipped to last place in the Western Conference. And the 31-year-old is still the only San Jose player with more than two goals on the season.

In fact, Wondolowski’s five scores represent a full third of San Jose’s output on the year; the Quakes were shut out in four of the six matches he missed.

So to say the club would love to see the organization’s all-time goals leader get back on the scoresheet beginning Friday night against D.C. United (11 pm ET, NBCSN/stream on NBCSports.com) is likely an understatement.

“I think we’ll get a huge boost from having Wondo back,” Quakes coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com this week. “He’s obviously a huge leader on this team. He gives us a lot of energy through not only scoring goals, but just his work rate and how he applies himself.”

Scoring goals is obviously at the top of the Quakes’ wish list, but it’s not the only thing Wondolowski will be concentrating on in what’s expected to be his first appearance since missing a golden chance in stoppage time at the end of regulation in the US’ eventual 2-1 defeat to Belgium in the World Cup’s round of 16.

“Just go out and do the little things -- I think that’s what gets us back on the winning track and that’s first and foremost,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I think goals will come. … All I’m going to do is just try to go in, do the little stuff, keep possession, and then try to finish a chance if you get one.

Wondolowski’s return could give San Jose their most offensive-minded lineup in ages, given that Portuguese winger Yannick Djalo is also healthy. That pair has only seen 133 minutes together on the pitch this season, spread over five games, and each man scored once during those brief glimpses. The biggest wrinkle is that Shea Salinas, who assisted on both those goals, may not be available due to an abdominal strain.

On the positive side, if anyone on the Quakes’ roster is equipped to handle the kind of pressure that Wondolowski faces as San Jose tries to recover from a 4-7-4 start, it’s the man who held up under intense scrutiny to tie Roy Lassiter’s all-time single-season scoring record two years ago.

“Nothing’s going to change with me,” Wondolowski said. “I still am going to go out there and try to fight as hard as I can. I love winning, and I’ll try to do anything I can to help win. That’s all my mindset is. I don’t think about putting the team on my back, I don’t think about trying to do anything more. I just try to do everything I can to help the team win. That’s all I can do.”