SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Chris Wondolowski may not have been able to push past Dwayne De Rosario and grab hold of a second consecutive Golden Boot award, but he was still grinning when he finally made his way into the San Jose Earthquakes locker room Saturday evening, long after the Quakes had dispatched FC Dallas 4-2.
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So, Wondolowski was asked, after scoring 16 goals this year to make it 34 in two seasons, do you have any message for the “Oh, he’s just a flash in the pan” crowd?
“Nope,” Wondolowski said. “Nothing. ... The smile says it all.”
The smile remained intact even though Wondolowski lost out on the Golden Boot because he finished in a dead heat with De Rosario on goals scored, but the Canadian had the tiebreaker thanks to his 12 assists.
“I’m glad I can show myself and others — the league, my teammates — that I can do it,” Wondolowski said. “I’m so fortunate to have the teammates I do. They were feeding me non-stop. ... I really appreciate and love them.”
Wondolowski had been bidding to become the first man to lead the league outright in scoring for consecutive seasons. Instead, he must content himself with being in the company of LA’s Carlos Ruiz (2002, ’03) and Columbus’ Stern John (1998, ’99) as players who’ve had at least a share of the scoring title in back-to-back years.
“Everybody was getting excited,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “Some of the chances he got in the second half, you’d bet your house on.”
But Chris Seitz, a backup making his first appearance of the season for a less-than-full-strength Dallas side already assured of a playoff berth, came up with three second-half saves on Wondolowski. That included a sprawling, reaching deflection after the ball fell to Wondolowski’s feet inside Dallas’ six-yard box in the 55th minute, and a reaction stop on a 71st-minute redirection from eight yards out.
“I went in hard. I kicked it as hard as I could, and he saved it,” Wondolowski said of the first shot. “Those two saves are pretty impressive.”
With nothing to play for on a team scale, the Quakes were looking to “feed the bear,” as Jason Hernandez put it, from the opening kickoff.
“It’s a shame,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “Everyone was hoping and praying that he [would] get that goal to win the scoring title.”
Left back Justin Morrow, whose pace regularly outstripped Jeremy Hall as the Quakes concentrated their attack from the flanks, said he was so amped up it made delivering quality passes that much harder.
“Every time I looked up, I was trying to pick him out,” Morrow said. “I think I was just trying a little bit too hard. My crosses weren’t very accurate. I wish I could have done better and got him another goal.”
In the end, it wasn’t to be. In the 86th minute, Seitz easily parried Wondolowski’s final shot on goal of 2011, a 20-yard drive. He missed twice more after that without threatening the net.
Nevertheless, Wondolowski will enter 2012 with a new target to shoot for: Raúl Díaz Arce’s mark of 56 goals from 1996-98, the most any single player has bagged over a three-year stretch in MLS history.
Maybe this time, in the face of two years’ worth of data points, people won’t be so quick to write off his chances.
“To me, Wondo over the last two years showed what a true professional he is,” Busch said. “The mark of a true professional is consistency — day-in, day-out; game-in, game-out; year-in, year-out. To put the numbers up that he did in back-to-back years, just shows he is a top pro.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes