HARRISON, N.J. – If it wasn’t for the red-hot form of New York Red Bulls forward tandem Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, it is likely Chris Wondolowski would be claiming the majority of the headlines from around the league.
With six goals in five games, Wondolowski is the top scorer in MLS not named Henry or Cooper. The Red Bulls have not overlooked that fact, and they are fully aware it will take a complete defensive effort to keep the San Jose Earthquakes forward from adding to his goalscoring total when the two teams meet at Red Bull Arena on Saturday (7 pm ET; watch LIVE online).
The Red Bulls are looking to extend their current winning streak to four games in a match that boasts the current top three scorers in the league. But in order to have a chance at accomplishing that, New York will need to shut down one of the league’s most potent and consistent offensive weapons.
“He’s very, very good at finding space for himself in the 18 yard box,” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com. “If you look at the videos, he seems to be on the mark all the time. He’s definitely one of the best goal-scorers in this league.”
The American striker – who has scored 40 league goals since 2010 – is coming off a two-goal outing in the Earthquakles’ 3-1 win against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who had not given up a single goal prior to that game this season.
“He’s such a clinical goalscorer,” said Red Bulls center back Stephen Keel. “When he gets that opportunity he buries it. It’s also his work ethic. The guy will run for days and he’s constantly pressuring. You might think he’s tired, and the next thing you know he’s on your shoulder.”
The injury-ravaged Red Bulls do have a plan to keep Wondolowski in check. It starts with rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who will need to let his defenders know when Wondolowski is trying to creep in behind them, as he did when he got himself wide open and scored following a free kick in last week’s win over Vancouver.
“A lot of communication obviously comes from Ryan, who sees the whole field up to the centerbacks and through us up to the midfield and so forth,” said Keel. “He plays on the defenders’ shoulders very well, sneaks into those holes and is extremely dangerous. He’s one you have to have your head on a swivel and always keep a tab on.”
Keeping tabs on Wondolowski is just part of New York’s strategy to limit his chances. The Red Bulls are also hoping to starve the dangerous Earthquakes forward of the good service he has been receiving in recent weeks.
That means doing an effective defensive job against the likes of Ramiro Corrales, Shea Salinas, Marvin Chavez and Sam Cronin, who have combined for six assists in just over a month of action in 2012.
“If [Wondolowski] can’t get the ball, he can’t score,” said Meara. “One of the big ways to limit what Wondolowski can do is cut off any service to him, whether it’s from the wing or through balls over the top. It’s going to take a real team performance, especially team defending starting with our forwards.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com