SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Chris Who?
OK, that’s not exactly what the San Jose Earthquakes were saying in their locker room Saturday after turning their first match without leading scorer Chris Wondolowski into a 2-0 victory against the Houston Dynamo.
But the Quakes did make it clear that they won’t just be lying down for opponents while Wondolowski, the 2010 MLS Golden Boot winner, and Ryan Johnson, tied for the team lead with two assists, ply their trade for the US and Jamaican national teams, respectively, at this month’s Gold Cup.
“We’ve got very talented forwards on this team,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said after the match. “Obviously, Wondo’s been fantastic for us so far this season, but we’ve got other players that have stepped up, especially tonight. ... Yes, we miss Wondo, but we have to get on with the game. We can’t complain about it.”
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It was the first time the Quakes have won an MLS match without Wondolowski in the 18-man lineup since April 10, 2010, when San Jose topped Chicago in Toyota Park 2-1 on the strength of scores by Arturo Alvarez and Ike Opara.
In San Jose’s 15 regular-season victories between that match and last night’s contest, Wondolowski tallied 18 goals. So it wasn’t unreasonable to wonder if the Quakes could survive without their wondrous scorer.
With a 69th-minute diving header from Steven Lenhart and a 91st-minute one-on-one battle won by Simon Dawkins, the answer — on Saturday, at least — was a resounding yes.
“When people around the league look at our team, it looks like a one-man show at times,” Quakes defender Jason Hernandez said. “You can’t deny what [Wondolowski] has done. For us to not have him and Ryan Johnson, who’s another important piece, go against a tough Houston team and get a result, I think it says a lot about the first guy all the way to the last guy in our lineup.”
Just after halftime, the Quakes looked like they were going to especially rue Bob Bradley’s callup of the late-blooming Wondolowski. Lenhart had made a straining, sliding effort to get a foot to a loose ball just inside Houston’s penalty box along the right wing, but his grounded cross hugged the top of the 6-yard box untouched.
It was exactly the kind of ball that Wondolowski has feasted on since earning a spot in coach Frank Yallop’s lineup. Yet instead of ruing the missed opportunity, the Quakes kept up steady second-half pressure after a so-so opening half, eventually creating Lenhart's first goal as a Quake.
So, was this a statement to upcoming opponents such as D.C. United (June 11), Sporting Kansas City (June 17) or the LA Galaxy (June 25) — all of whom will avoid Wondolowski if the US make the Gold Cup final, as expected?
“For sure,” Lenhart said. “The character of our team is, ‘Come to play.’ From the front to the back, we’re going to battle for each other and work together. I think that was shown tonight.”
The Quakes got an additional boost in the final 15 minutes when Dawkins, the 23-year-old on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, made his first appearance since April 23. Dawkins scored his third goal — best among the remaining Quakes — when he combined on a 1-2 with Sam Cronin, slipped behind the Houston defense and coolly drilled his shot low to the near post.
Dawkins still needs time to work on his fitness, but in Wondolowski’s absence, his offensive creativity — even if it’s only as a second-half substitute — will be critical.
“This shows that we can win sometimes even without our best players,” Dawkins said. “I was really pleased with that.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes