It was a thing of beauty. Not a classic poacher’s goal, but a skill-check maneuver that provided a little bit of solace to an otherwise forgettable evening.
The score was 3-1 Sporting Kansas City as the game entered stoppage time, and the San Jose Earthquakes looked left for dead. But Magnus Eriksson, who had been a machine throughout the 90 minutes, collected a ball just past the center line and, almost instinctively, floated a ball towards the penalty area.
Chris Wondolowski made a darting run into the box, and, when the ball skimmed just over the man-bun of Graham Zusi, the Quakes captain was there to measure up the situation. With Matt Besler bearing down on him, Wondo elected to go for the one-touch shot. He wrapped his left foot around the ball just as Besler arrived, striking it past the diving Tim Melia and in off the far post.
It was Wondolowski’s first goal of the season, the 135th of his Major League Soccer career, and it moved him into sole possession of second place on the all-time scoring list, 10 behind Landon Donovan. It was an impressive piece of footwork from Wondo, and the goal was nominated for MLS goal of the week, but the striker was in no mood to celebrate, not with the result still in the balance. Wins have always been more important to him than personal achievements.
“I wish we could have won,” Wondolowski said after the game, “but credit to our team and Magnus for putting that ball in there. To finish it was pretty cool, but hopefully we will get a couple more wins.”
It was the 65th away goal in Wondolowski’s 14 year career, the most of any player in league history and two more than Donovan, and his ninth goal all-time against Kansas City. But it came in another loss away from the Bay Area, certainly taking some of the shine off of the spectacular effort. Since the Earthquakes last win in KC, a 5-0 smackdown of Sporting back in August 2015, they have a collective road record of 5-24-9, the worst over that time frame in all of MLS.
Wondolowski and the rest of his teammates laid out a singular goal prior to the season — make the MLS Cup playoffs. Wondo even stated that he would gladly defer the goal scoring to the other attackers if it meant getting another chance to play in the postseason. He turned 35 earlier this year, and while he looks as if he has many seasons left in him, the chances to win trophies are getting fewer with every year. Goals win games, no matter who puts them in the back of the net.
“There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for everyone,” Wondolowski told Pro Soccer USA last week. “I have no problem sharing, and as long as we make the playoffs, I am good with that.”
Two games into the 2018 season, and the Quakes are 1-1-0 with five goals scored and five goals allowed. They will need to find some points on the road if they do want to qualify for the postseason. With high-flying expansion team Los Angeles Football Club entering the Western Conference, and the other strong contenders already starting the season strong, the race to make the top-six is going to be as difficult as ever.
The Earthquakes did look capable of gaining points against KC on Saturday night, especially after starting the second half tied at a goal apiece. Wondolowski had a glorious chance to give the visitors the lead, but he skied a sitter in front of goal that he has buried numerous times before.
“It is a big shot that is still weighing on my mind and will give me some trouble sleeping tonight,” Wondolowski shared in his post-game comments. “It was a good cross by Magnus, Matt Besler took a little deflection and it put it a little behind me, and it got a little swivel and I missed it. That was a big one.”
Minutes later, following some lax defending, Zusi put the hosts ahead with a spectacular effort from outside the area, scoring his first goal in over a year. The upper-90 goal was, like Wondolowski’s, nominated for MLS goal of the week honors. It stunned the Earthquakes, and though they fought back, they never fully recovered as Sporting added a third 12 minutes later.
A flurry of substitutions followed, as head coach Mikael Stahre tried to find a combination that could get the Quakes back into the game. The scattered approach did keep the game at a two goal margin, but it wasn’t until Wondo’s stoppage time goal that there was any hope of a comeback. Last season, the team would appear to give up when giving up goals, but at least on Saturday, they showed more resolve.
“I thought it showed a lot of the character of this team,” Wondolowski said, “and a lot of the things we have been working on and instilled in this mentality.”
The Earthquakes have another two-week break until they return to MLS action, a home date against top of the table New York City Football Club on March 31. Stahre, Wondolowski, and the rest of the squad will have to pick up the pieces and prepare mightily to get back to their winning ways.