SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Even as he was bagging a record-tying 27 goals during an MVP season last year, San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski never took more than six shots in a single match.
So if he was to get seven attempts against Real Salt Lake on Sunday, the odds say he had to have put one away, right?
It didn’t turn out like that for Wondolowski, much to the chagrin of he and the Quakes. Wondo did take seven whacks against RSL's defense, but provoked just one save from goalkeeper Nick Rimando. San Jose put only one other shot on net – a wholly benign effort from Rafael Baca – and the visitors broke out late behind Álvaro Saborío’s brace for a 2-0 win.
Wondolowski, who became the Quakes’ second-ever Designated Player when he signed a revamped deal late last month, predictably took the blame upon himself.
“A little unlucky, but pretty bad finishing by me,” Wondolowski said. “Horrible finishing by me. I had four clear looks and didn’t make Rimando make a save. ... If I score those in the first half, it puts the game away. We’re cruising in the second half and have three points in our pocket.”
Wondolowski’s closest moment came in 15th minute, when he recovered his own blocked shot off Tony Beltran and bounced a half-volley towards the net through a crowded post-corner box. Rimando was credited with a fingertip save to deflect it off the crossbar.
The reigning MLS MVP's other misses were off frame entirely. Among the notables: a back-post header from a third-minute free kick, a scuffed volley from 11 yards in the 35th minute and a wide-open header that floated beyond the near post from a quick 58th-minute restart.
“That’s the story of the game,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “You’ve got to punish the team for not defending well. And to be honest, they didn’t defend well first half and we should have punished them, but we didn’t.”
This all raises the question, is it fair to rely so much on Wondolowski? Every other Quake who had more than three goals last season – Alan Gordon (13), Steven Lenhart (10) and Simon Dakwins (eight) – is either unavailable through injury at the moment (Gordon, Lenhart) or has left the team without a legitimate replacement (Dawkins).
“I think [Wondolowski] sets his standards exceptionally high, and I think we’ve come to know him as a guy who really, every time he steps on the field, that he’s going to make magic happen and really impact the game,” Quakes defender Jason Hernandez said. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself to get on the scoreboard and carry us. It’s worked so well so far, so we’re not going to change that formula.”
Besides, went the feeling in the Quakes locker room, there’s no way that many chances can go by the boards against New York next weekend.
“We all know Chris Wondolowski is going to score goals,” San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas said. “Just because it didn’t happen on night one doesn’t mean he’s not going to get his 20 goals this year.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.