Chris Wondolowski will often tell you he puts more pressure on himself than does anyone else. The pressure, he says, brings the best out of himself. Of his ten goals so far this season, three have been delivered in the final fifteen minutes.
It really shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, when Wondolowski converted at the death to salvage a crucial 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night. Yet overall it had been a drab performance by the Quakes, redeemed mainly by Vako Qazaishvili’s dynamism. With defeat imminent, reporters in the press box had not bothered to prepare an alternate story to account for the possibility of a late equalizer, a fact that was met with a smug reaction by coach Chris Leitch.
Enter Shea Salinas, who has been Wondolowski’s most valuable and consistent service outlet for the best part of six years.
“It’s the last few seconds of the game, I’m just trying to find space to get the ball in the box,” he says. “Guys stepped in but I was able to push the ball by one guy, two guys, I don’t know how many guys, and finally when I was about to cross it a guy kicked me and we got a penalty. Wondo’s good pretty good from the spot so right then it felt like we got a point.”
The goal took Wondolowski to double-digits for the eighth consecutive season in Major League Soccer, an unprecedented feat that he rightly deemed a “huge accomplishment.” Wondo now only needs one more double-digit season to reach Landon Donovan’s all-time MLS scoring record of 144, and he’s not done this year, either.
“I don’t doubt him at all,” said Leitch. “If he puts his mind to something he’s going to do everything he can to achieve that goal.”
Though he’s loath to admit it, Wondolowski keeps track of where he stands in the record books and he knows that two more goals will take him joint third alongside Jaime Moreno. One more and he’ll be tied second with Jeff Cunningham. For now, though, he’s simply focused on the next game and he knows the goals will come in time. “I just want to make sure we can get to the playoffs and go from there,” he told Quakes Talk. “Win a championship, maybe be done,” he laughs.
Their paths to the playoffs are narrowing, however. Despite Vako’s goalscoring performance, the Quakes looked disjointed. “It felt like the energy was lacking a little bit tonight,” said Salinas. “I don’t know whatever reason but it felt like we were kind of playing like a lot of individuals out there and we never were able to get things going as a team.”
The Quakes allowed two goals from set pieces, which have been a major weakness since coach Chris Leitch took charge in June. “We got ripped a little bit at halftime for that,” said Salinas.
“We’ve talked about set pieces for about three weeks so the second they score from a set piece it’s like: ‘Aargh! This is everything we’ve been talking about!’
“Second half they didn’t score on a set piece, but they’re still dangerous…actually, I think it was a set piece. So it’s frustrating, it’s a frustrating game. We’ve got to clean up the set pieces and be a little more accountable on set pieces.”
Leitch has been very reticent about his tactical plans, particularly set pieces, but he snapped after Saturday night’s match and held his players accountable. “Set pieces, for me, is as much about mentality as anything else,” he said. “Taking pride in making sure your guy does not get a sniff at it. This particular one tonight, I think there were five of their guys in the box, the ball hit the floor a couple of times, which you don’t like to see on a set-piece, you like to attack it to make sure there’s only one chance at it and that chance is dominated by us. It rattles around a couple of times…someone gets a foot on it and then: boom.”
In terms of mentality, though, Wondolowski’s equalizer went a long way to assuage the blow and steal the focus.
Salinas, for one, felt a little shorted that he didn’t get to share some of the official spotlight. “When you draw a PK you should get an assist,” he joked. “But I don’t make the rules so I’m just happy we scored.
“I don’t know how many assists I’ve had to him but it’s been pretty cool to pass to the guy that scores a whole bunch.”