What happens when you leave top MLS scorer and your best player on the bench? San Jose Earthquakes did that and found out it could actually be a good thing for them and for Chris Wondolowski, who scored both goals in 2-2 tie against Portland Timbers at Buck Shaw Stadium on Wednesday night.
Coming into the game, the Quakes were on 12-game undefeated home field stretch. They were also riding confidently, having won three games in a row. Not seeing much production from him recently, they even felt good about leaving MLS' top goalscorer Chris Wondolowski on the bench as game began. He was there alongside Alan Gordon, the second best goalscorer on the team, who was also benched.
Could it been that Quakes head coach Frank Yallop was resting his two players before key matchup against Seattle Sounders on Saturday? Or was he sending a message to Wondo who have not scored a goal off the field in the game since July?
Either way, the game proved to be entertaining.
It all started well, with San Jose creating two good scoring chances in the first 20 minutes, but unable to score, with Simon Dawkins and Steve Lenhart having two chances near the net, but unable to convert.
Not having as many chances as the Quakes, Timbers still scored first. They capitalized on defensive mistakes by the Quakes and sent Denny Mwanga on one-on-one duel with Jon Busch. Not much San Jose keeper could do, as Mwanga dribbled the ball around him and kicked it into an open net.
As teams went to the locker rooms for the first half, Quakes lead the stat sheet, with 9 shots on goal vs 3 for Timbers, and 61.3% possession.
Things looked like they were turning around in the second half, with Lenhart having the best chance to score off the header, but it was not the Quakes turn to score yet again. A bad giveaway by the Quakes lead to Danny Mwanga having the ball just inside the penalty box, with no one near him to block his shot. Having time to compose the shot, he fired a torpedo into the top right corner and again, Busch had virtually no chance on that one. That put Portland 2-0 with 62 minutes into the game.
Frank Yallop decided to shake things up and put two of his most dangerous forwards on the field. Chris Wondolowski entered the game just before the second goal. Alan Gordon came on right after, giving San Jose a major boost on the offense. More than that, during the pause in the game all of the players gathered together inside the center circle and had what seemed like a spirited discussion about what to do next, with Gordon raising his hand up and down as he was making his point.
Having Lenhart, Gordon, Wondo up front, the goal didn't have to wait long. Little more than 10 minutes later, it was Lenhart to Gordon to Wondolowski (just like that!) and Wondo with a low shot past Portland's Bednik to cut Timber's lead to 2-1. The goal was Wondo's 20th this season and first one from the run of play since July 14 - quite some time for someone who was a record scoring pace for most of the season.
"My goal was just trying to add a spark," said Wondo after the game. "To be honest, I wanted to give a 90-minute performance in a 30-minute period."
With 20 minutes left in the game, did the Quakes have enough in their tank to execute yet another come-from-behind feat? It turns out, they did.
The rest of the game happened mostly around Portland's penalty box. After a long cross by Sam Cronin, Wondolowski tied the game with a header from the edge of the goalie box.
Quakes tried hard to score another goal with few minutes remaining before the final whistle. After the game Alan Gordon said they truly believed they would score the third one. But that zeal almost cost them a point. Portland ran off on a counter attack and had 3-on-1 chance, with just Lenhart and Busch protecting the goal, but the ball was kicked just wide off the net, to the relief of 9,877 home fans at the Buck Shaw Stadium.
"Over the balance of the game, we created a number of chances and could have scored some more goals," said Frank Yallop. "It was tough to give up that goal right before halftime and have to fight our way back into the match. Our spirit was great again and the teamwork and reaction to adversity was nice to see."
The Quakes did it once again this season, coming back from two goals deficit to preserve unbeaten home streak that is now at 13 games. They will next face Seattle Sounders FC in Seattle on Saturday.