Where’s Wondo? RSL wants to make sure it knows, at all times
By Michael C. Lewis
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Apr 18 2012 05:33PM
Sandy • San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski has led Major League Soccer in scoring over the past two seasons, winning its Golden Boot scoring title once and tying for it another time, and fashioning a fairy-tale, out-of-nowhere story by racking up 40 goals in league games, another one in the playoffs, 43 in total since joining the Earthquakes …
And none of them against Real Salt Lake.
Sounds crazy, but it’s true.
Arguably the league’s best goal scorer has been shut out by arguably its best defense — Wondolowski has never scored against RSL, no matter his team — something he no doubt will try to change when the Earthquakes play host to RSL at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night, in a battle for supremacy in the MLS Western Conference.
"It’s been really impressive what he has done," RSL’s Chris Wingert said. "He’s a clinical finisher … We’re going to have to be wary of him, and try not to let him get shots on goal."
If it were anybody else, you’d say, Good luck with that.
After all, Wondolowski already has scored seven times in six games this season, and usually gets plenty of chances. He ranks third in the league in shots, and is known as a guy who just seems to find a way to put the ball in the net.
"He’s just very intelligent about the runs that he makes into the box," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "He just has a sense of timing to get on the end of things and make the proper run to meet the ball at an opportune moment. On top of all that, I think he’s a very, very good finisher. A lot of forwards need lots of chances to score one goal. I feel like he needs 11/2 chances to score one goal."
But RSL has enjoyed quite a lot of success against the Earthquakes recently.
Not only is it riding a five-game unbeaten streak against them that includes back-to-back road victories, but it also has not allowed a goal in four -straight games dating back to 2009. Another victory — or even a draw — would keep RSL at the top of the Western Conference standings.
"Aw, you’re jinxing us," Wingert said.
Neither Wingert nor his fellow defenders claimed much credit for keeping Wondolowski from scoring against them.
Mostly, they stuck to praising his uncanny ability, suggesting he has simply endured some bad luck against them — though midfielder Ned Grabavoy did acknowledge that teammates such as central defenders Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave "are not the easiest guys to play against."
"When I look at Wondo, I think … that could be me," Wingert said. "He’s not overly athletic or does anything crazy, but let’s give the guy some credit. I saw a stat the other day that he’s got 41 goals since 2010 and the guy in second place is 10 behind him. … That’s just an incredible stat."
It’s even more amazing when you remember that Wondolowski did next to nothing for his first five seasons in the league.
One of the last picks of the supplemental draft in 2005, Wondolowski was stuck mostly with the reserves, and played just 922 first-team minutes in four-plus seasons for the original Earthquakes and the Houston Dynamo, before being traded back to the reincarnated expansion Quakes.
To that point, he had scored four league goals.
But since returning to San Jose in the middle of the 2009 season, he has been all but unstoppable.
Suddenly granted more opportunities by coach Frank Yallop — 2,308 minutes in his first full season under him — he scored 18 regular-season goals in 2010 to win the Golden Boot, then scored 16 the next season to tie Dwayne De Rosario, who officially claimed the scoring title because he had more assists.
At one point, Wondolowski scored 10 straight San Jose goals, a league record.
But still, none of them against RSL, in five career games.
"We always say, leading up to games like this, you have to ask the question, Where’s Wondo?" RSL defender Nat Borchers said. "Every time the ball gets wide, every time a midfielder or a defender gets his head up, you have to find him in the back and make sure you get a body on him. He’s got a nose for goal, so we have to be careful."