SAN JOSE, Calif. – Another month, another head-to-head Golden Boot challenge for San Jose Earthquakes star Chris Wondolowski. Only this one has a twist.
Two weeks after outdueling Seattle’s David Estrada – then the league’s leading goal-scorer – in the Quakes’ 1-0 win over the Sounders, Wondolowski will face this weekend not one, but two Golden Boot competitors, in the form of New York’s Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. Henry currently tops the MLS table with seven goals, with Wondolowski and Cooper tied for second on six each.
GOAL: Wondo scores off throw in
“They’re good players,” head coach Frank Yallop said of the Red Bulls pair. “They create their own space, they’re very tricky in what they do and very sly. Henry’s obviously a very top player and Kenny Cooper is playing great right now. It’s a tough one.”
But hardly impossible. If Wondolowski has an advantage in this matchup, it’s that he’s backed by a San Jose defense that ranks second in the league with a goals-against average of 0.40 per match. New York, on the other hand, have allowed 1.60 goals per game to their opponents.
The Quakes allowed Estrada only one shot on goal in their March 31 matchup, and goalkeeper Jon Busch was up to the task of making that save.
That said, Henry is on a binge of seven goals in three matches, something even Wondolowski – who has 40 goals in MLS regular-season play since 2010 – hasn’t experienced.
“He’s on fire right now,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com of Henry. “Maybe if I stand next to him, I can catch a little bit of that. Our defense has been playing pretty well, but they’re going to have their hands full. It’s going to take a full team commitment.”
For Yallop, that’s all he’s ever looking for. The Quakes’ defensive tone is set in part by Wondolowski, whose attacking pedigree doesn’t prevent him from pitching in when it comes to marking in his own third. Speedy winger Marvin Chávez, never known as a stalwart in terms of tracking back with FC Dallas, has been winning over his teammates with his defensive work rate – and should be available to play despite suffering an ankle injury last weekend.
“We can’t worry about them scoring,” Yallop insisted. “We’ve got to make sure that, as a team, we defend correctly. We can’t be isolated, especially with those two. Henry is a guy who drifts and gets in real uncomfortable positions for the opposition. So we’ve got to make sure we know where they’re at all the time.”
So far this year, Henry has mostly been playing underneath Cooper, who has been thrust up top in the absences of Juan Agudelo (injured) and Luke Rodgers (denial of visa). With Cooper being so deadly in his own right, the pairing has gained something of a feedback loop: Every goal from one player brings more attention, thus freeing up more space for the other to once again find the back of the net.
That being said, the attention naturally falls on Henry, whose peerless Arsenal pedigree was only burnished by his six-week loan spell with the Gunners earlier this year. Quakes midfielder Rafael Baca knows that smothering the 34-year-old Frenchman will require – more than any other physical skill – the use of 11 sets of eyes.
“That’s going to be important,” Baca said. “Henry’s a talented player, so we have to be really aware of controlling him – he’s dangerous with the ball and without the ball, so we have to be careful.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com