FOX Soccer Exclusive
Wondolowski inches closer to history
A funny thing happened to Chris Wondolowski on his way to smashing Roy Lassiter's single-season goal-scoring record: he stopped scoring goals from the run of play.
This drought wasn't some short little swoon for the most prolific striker in the league over the past three seasons. It was an eight-game, score a couple of goals from the penalty spot and watch yet another night pass without a breakthrough from the run of play type of spell.
All of a sudden, those whispers about matching or passing “Rocket Roy's” mark of 27 goals in 1996 stopped. His place in the US national team disappeared. San Jose coach Frank Yallop even left the league's MVP-in-waiting out of the starting XI for Wednesday's manageable visit by Portland in the middle of a three-games-in-eight-days stretch.
Yallop didn't hesitate to turn to Wondolowski when the Timbers somehow amassed a two-goal lead at Buck Shaw Stadium. Wondolowski returned the favor by returning to form shortly after his 58th minute arrival and scoring twice to increase his total to 21 goals on the season and save his team from an embarrassing result.
His pair of goals showed why he scores so frequently. The first effort arrived from a deft run off a pair of flicks from Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart and a cool finish inside the far post. His fist-pumping exhortations after the finish encouraged his teammates to grab a second and released some of the angst accumulated since his hat trick against Real Salt Lake on July 14. The tying salvo offered up an example of Wondolowski at his finest: creating a yard of space, exploiting some slack defensive marking and polishing off a chance – in this case, a header – presented to him.
Wondolowski's revival lifted the Earthquakes to a point on a night when they expected all three and sparked renewed questions about whether he can match that 27-goal haul. The odds remain against him. He needs to score six times in the final five games to match Lassiter's mark. For most players, the feat would appear improbable at best. For Wondolowski, the record remains within reach if he can banish his recent stumbles in front of goal to a peculiar footnote in this wonderful season and uncork the type of scoring run that will spark those historic discussions all over again.
CLEAR THE CALENDAR
The Columbus Crew visits the Chicago Fire on Saturday, but don’t turn your nose up at this off-Broadway meeting between two unheralded sides. Chicago boasts the league's second-best record over the past ten games courtesy of its impressive mix of miserly defensive work and potent attacking forays. Columbus escaped a potential trap game against Chivas USA on Wednesday through Justin Meram's late winner and sidestepped a harmful blow to its push for a postseason berth. The key to this fixture: locating the right balance in attack to avoid the prospect of inviting a potentially devastating foray on the counter.
San Jose’s encounter against the Seattle Sounders also promises to be a great match. This top-of-the-table clash represents perhaps the last chance for the Sounders to derail the Earthquakes' march to the top seed in the Western Conference. Both teams played in midweek, but the key figures will return here to wage in an epic battle that should yield plenty of goals. The result likely hinges on how the rearguards manage to blunt the impact of Wondolowski and Fredy Montero up front.
SET THE DVR
Vancouver hosts Colorado with much to prove. A poor run of five consecutive defeats has peeled away the Whitecaps' postseason cushion (down to one point lead over FC Dallas for the fifth and final playoff spot heading into the weekend) and turned this game into perhaps the most important match of the season. Only a victory will suffice here against the floundering Rapids. One other point worth noting: this home date against the Rapids marks the first in a season-defining stretch of four consecutive games at B.C. Place for Martin Rennie's side.
PONDER ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS
Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena can bring back the big guns against Toronto FC after fielding a reserve-laden group in the 0-0 draw at Puerto Rico in midweek CONCACAF Champions League play. Then again, the reserves could probably do a job in this particular fixture against a Reds side that lacks talent and struggles to produce results after cross-continent trips.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.