SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Gold Cup champion, MLS All-Star, but most importantly San Jose Earthquakes captain: Chris Wondolowski made a memorable return to Buck Shaw Stadium in scoring twice to lead the Quakes to a 2-0 win over 10-man Chivas USA.
"It was great for Wondo," said interim head coach Mark Watson. "He's been away for a while and done really well with the national team, but I know he wanted to come back and make a contribution for us, and he did that very well for us tonight."
San Jose (8-9-6) dominated the entire match against Chivas (4-13-5), with Wondolowski scoring his first goal of the match just before halftime and adding the game clincher a few minutes before the final whistle. The Buck Shaw homecoming - Wondolowski hadn't appeared for the Earthquakes at their cozy Santa Clara stadium in over 75 days - was a welcome sight for the club as it tries to keep its momentum up the Western Conference table.
"I'm glad I didn't mess things up," said Wondolowski. "We had two wins coming into tonight, and I am glad we were able to get another win and get this thing moving."
Chivas defender Carlos Bocanegra was shown a straight red card in between the two Wondolowski goals, which made it a foregone conclusion that the Quakes would get the win. The shutout from the defense was impressive enough, but it was Wondo that was the clear man of the match.
"He scored two goals tonight," said defender Jordan Stewart laughingly. "It's always a great help when you have a goal scorer up top. And when you can keep clean sheets in the back, it always gives you a chance."
"It's great having him back," added goalkeeper Jon Busch. "He's a true goal scorer. The time away with the national team and getting the goals in the Gold Cup brought him back with a lot of confidence, so it is good for the team. It's great to have him back and scoring goals again."
While away with the U.S. Men's National Team for the entire month of July, Wondolowski scored 6 goals, eclipsing the 5 he tallied for the Earthquakes prior to his call-up. His last MLS goal came against Toronto FC back on May 8, a span of nearly three months, and his coach hopes the star striker can regain the form that allowed him to set the league's scoring record with 27 goals last year.
"Wondo keeps working away and you know with him the goals are going to come," said Watson. "He is obviously a big player for us, the league MVP and leading goal scorer over the last three years, so we use his goals in a lot of ways. When he's playing well and he's scoring, it's a real boost for the team."
Though the victory came against struggling Chivas USA, the team was still encouraged by the performance and hopes to continue their success in a midweek CONCACAF Champions League group stage match at the Montreal Impact and next weekend in MLS play at the Vancouver Whitecaps. With 11 games on the schedule the resurgent Quakes even feel a run at the playoffs from their position second from last in the table is still a possibility.
"Definitely, the way we've been playing can get us in," said Wondolowski. "That's the great thing about this team, it's not just one player carrying us, it's all eleven of us working for one another and when we work hard and win balls in good places, we tend to create opportunities. It's a great recipe."
The month of July had been mixed, but successive league wins had raised expectations in San Jose. Suspensions to Alan Gordon and Marvin Chavez, which on any previous weekend this season would have decimated the Earthquakes lineup, were made up for by the debuts of new signings Clarence Goodson and Jaime Alas. Goodson, as well as Wondolowski, fresh off his triumph in the Gold Cup with the U.S. Men's National Team, made his start as a member of the Quakes in partnership with Victor Bernardez.
The Earthquakes looked dangerous from the opening whistle against cellar-dwellers Chivas USA. With Cordell Cato and Shea Salinas providing plenty of pace on the wings and English defender Stewart making smart overlapping runs along the left touchline, the game had a decidedly one-sided feel to it. Thrice in the first 10 minutes, the Wondolowski led offense created scoring chances in the Goats box, but goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, with the sun setting in his eyes, fended off any danger.
Chivas USA settled into a predictable pattern of defend and counter against the Earthquakes, and in the 30th minute forced a save from Busch. Julio Morales, playing in an advanced role for Chivas, collected a ball behind the San Jose defensive line, but with Bernardez tracking back to challenge the shot, failed to take advantage of the one-on-on situation with Busch.
A heads-up play from Cato in the 45th minute earned a corner kick for the Quakes that Chivas cleared away, but the play continued when the ball made its way to Steven Beitashour near the center line. With San Jose's tall defensive tandem still in an advanced position, Beitashour chipped a perfect ball over the top that Bernardez headed back across the box for Wondolowski to head into the upper corner. Perfect "Route One" soccer for the Quakes, as the ball never touched the ground after it left Beitashour's foot and before it settled into the back of the net.
Wondolowski nearly made it two goals for the Quakes in the 59th minute as the captain received a well flicked ball into space behind the Chivas defense and raced in on goal. Rounding Kennedy near the penalty spot, Wondolowski was guilty of a heavy touch and his shot from a very tight angle was deflected away near the goal line by defender Mario de Luna.
The Earthquakes, already dominating in every facet of the game including the scoreboard, found their task even easier in the 62nd minute when Chivas USA defender Bocanegra was shown a straight red card by referee Armando Villarreal for a two-footed tackle on Salinas. Up a man, the Quakes proceeded to play keep-away with sustained possession and methodically looked to add a second goal.
In the 77th minute, El Salvadoran midfielder Jaime Alas made his Earthquakes and MLS debut when he entered for the dynamic Cato. Alas joined the team on Thursday and is on loan with the club through the remainder of the season.
The insurance goal finally arrived in the 87th minute after Wondolowski added his second of the match and seventh of the season with a deft chip of Kennedy after the Chivas USA ‘keeper had spilled a deflected shot by Salinas. The visitors never recovered from the goal, and the Earthquakes coasted to their third clean sheet victory of the season.