The San Jose Earthquakes’ lineup cards have been jumbled beyond all recognition over the course of this season, scrambled by injuries, red cards, visa paperwork and a family crisis.
Throughout it all, however, there was one constant presence in the Quakes’ attack: 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski.
Saturday, even that pillar crumbled.
As coach Frank Yallop searched desperately for an equalizing goal in what would eventually become a 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy, he decided for only the second time all season to pull his leading scorer before the final whistle. Wondolowski, who has eight goals this year but hasn’t scored in his last 467 minutes of play, departed in the 71st minute as part of a double substitution.
Wondolowski’s first early exit — on May 14 against Columbus — only came about after San Jose defender Brandon McDonald was ejected in the 80th minute. That prompted Yallop to insert center back Ike Opara in Wondolowski’s place.
This one, however, was a like-for-like move, with new acquisition Edmundo Zura and Simon Dawkins coming on to replace Wondolowski and Khari Stephenson, normally a central midfielder pushed into front-line duty with Alan Gordon (surgeries to repair abdominal and hip muscles) and Steven Lenhart (indefinite personal leave of absence) still unavailable.
“A little bit, yeah,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com when asked if he was surprised by the removal. “I know I’m healthy. I’m going to go out there and try to work as hard as I can. But he’s the head coach, and I’ll stick by every decision he makes. And that was the decision.”
It’s been tough sledding for Wondolowski since he reached the high point of his year, making the US national team roster for this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup competition. The tournament represented Wondolowski’s first major action with the USMNT, and he worked his way onto the pitch in all three of the team’s pool-play games.
But Wondolowski, who powered his meteoric rise primarily on the basis of his clinical finishing, missed a reaction shot from four yards out against Panama in the US’s first-ever Gold Cup group-play defeat.
Since returning, Wondolowski’s normally lethal touch has been dormant for long stretches. Outside of a brace on July 20 against Vancouver, Wondolowski is scoreless in nine of 10 Quakes matches held after the Gold Cup. That includes Saturday, where Wondolowski’s best chance came in the 37th minute.
San Jose right back Steven Beitashour drove down the sideline and collected a long, searching pass from Bobby Burling. Beitashour cut into the penalty box and slid a square pass to the onrushing Wondolowski, but his left-footed attempt from 17 yards squirted out at a nearly 90-degree angle, eventually rolling over the touch line.
“It took a little bit of a bounce, but no matter what it does, I need to do a lot better than kicking it out for a throw-in,” Wondolowski said. “If I get chances, I need to bury them.”
Yallop has mentioned multiple times that the Quakes can’t leave all their offensive burdens on Wondolowski. For his part, Wondolowski said he isn’t suffering from any self-doubt.
“I’m just trying to go out there and do whatever I can to try to get the win,” Wondolowski said. “If it means playing defense and trying to tackle for 90 minutes and win every 50-50 ball, I’ll try to do that. I still have full confidence in my ability. I’m not going to change.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes