As the San Jose Earthquakes get set for a showdown against the Seattle Sounders at the new Levi's Stadium, the team can look back exactly five years ago for the blueprints for beating the rave green. A barrage of goals, including the first Earthquakes goal by unassuming substitute Chris Wondolowski, sunk the Sounders by a resounding 4-0 score.
That match, at the cozy confines of Buck Shaw Stadium, also saw the best performance by midfielder Shea Salinas up to that time in a Quakes jersey. He was dynamic on the wings, getting the ball to Cornell Glen for the second goal and delivering the perfect pass to assist Wondolowski on goal number four.
Five year later, Salinas leads the team in assists and Wondolowski leads the team in goals, hardly something either player could have imagined as they exited the Buck Shaw field that perfect Bay Area August 2, 2009 afternoon.
"No, it's pretty crazy," said Wondolowski when asked to reflect on how far his career has come since that day. "I still remember that game very vividly. It was a special moment scoring my first goal for the Earthquakes because they meant so much to me. I'll always remember that one."
"Five years ago, wow! That's pretty cool," said Salinas when reminded of that game.
With San Jose already up 1-0 on an own-goal by Osvaldo Alonso, the game turned decidedly in favor of the Earthquakes when James Riley was shown a straight red card midway through the first half. Brazilian central midfielder Andre Luiz made his Quakes debut, orchestrating a three goal second half that earned San Jose its biggest margin of victory in Sounders vs. Earthquakes rivalry.
And perhaps, the most memorable highlight was Wondo's 84th minute goal. Seattle was noticeably gassed at the tail end of the match, especially after playing down a man for such a long stretch, but San Jose continued the high pressure it had exerted since the opening whistle, notably through the hustle of Salinas, a last minute inclusion in the lineup when regular starter Arturo Alvarez was unable to go.
"I was confident on the ball the whole time," said Salinas after the game five years ago. "It was definitely my best game as an Earthquake and hopefully I can build on it. It's what I expected to play like my whole career, it's how I expected to play when I entered the league and it's how I expect to play the rest of the time."
Following two seasons away from San Jose, an Expansion Draft darling for one season with Philadelphia and one with Vancouver, Salinas returned to the Quakes in 2012. In four-plus seasons with the Earthquakes, Salinas has collected 25 assists, good for #8 on the club's all-time list.
"Wondo and I have connected a few times in the five years since that first one," said Salinas. "And now he has won the Golden Boot a few times and I've been able to give him a few assists on those."
For Earthquakes fans - and opposing MLS defenders - Wondolowski's goal against the Sounders was the model for the many more that were to come. The 31-year old has gained a reputation as a poacher, a goal scorer that excels inside the area. His first goal as an Earthquake served notice of what was to come.
"There was a lot of space where as a forward you could drop in or go wide," said Wondolowski after the game five years ago. "I tried to find that space drifting off the center backs, and that is what I was able to do tonight to get open on my goal."
In five years with San Jose, Wondolowski has followed that recipe to perfection, and he is far and away the club's all-time leader scorer with 82 goals. He won the MLS Golden Boot in 2010, five years on from his rookie season, with 18 goals. In 2012, during the Quakes incredible run to the Supporters' Shield, Wondo matched the MLS season record for goals with 27 and earned the league's Most Valuable Player award. He has a Designated Player contract and is unquestionably the Earthquakes go-to guy on offense.
"We definitely try to get him the ball is much as we can in the box because he is our goal scorer," said Salinas. "That is a pretty cool stat that he has gone from a Developmental Player to a Designated Player. That is pretty awesome."
Prior to scoring against the Sounders in 2009, fifth-year forward Wondolowski had netted four times for the Houston Dynamo. His trade to San Jose on June 9, a deal that sent Cam Weaver in the opposite direction, marked a new beginning for the Bay Area native, and he made his debut less than a week later against Seattle at Qwest Field. It took nearly two months more, but Wondolowski finally scored his first Earthquakes goal.
"Very exciting, especially to do it in front of a great crowd," said Wondolowski that night. "I definitely owe Shea a big one. It was a great pass from Shea, and I am glad I finished it because I am not sure he'd find me again if I'd missed that."
On the afternoon that Salinas had his best game to date for San Jose and Wondolowski emerged on the scene for the black and blue, the careers for both suddenly took on a most stunning trajectory. And the two friends and teammates continue to shine for the Earthquakes five years later, Salinas making the delivery and Wondolowski finishing the play.
"He's been doing a great job," said Wondolowski of Salinas. "I love having Shea out there, and he's been doing a fantastic job and he continues to get better every day. That's exciting to see."
"I think we've done well," added Salinas simply.
Salinas to Wondo - a combination that has a great ring to it - one that started five years ago, and one that the Earthquakes hope to see for many years to come.