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Wondolowski: Comeback brace an attempt to overcome earlier mistakes this year

Plus, some insight as to how he found the right spot on the winner.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Before Friday’s game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake, Chris Wondolowski hadn’t found any traction yet in the 2021 season.

He came off the bench in the season opener at the Houston Dynamo and uncharacteristically missed a game-tying shot from point-blank range in the dying minutes. The next week, he came off the bench late in the Earthquakes’ home opener and picked up a straight red card within a few minutes of entering the game, just the second ejection in his MLS career.

But after serving his suspension in San Jose’s third game of the season, last week, Wondo finally arrived in the 2021 season on Friday, when he came off the bench and scored two late goals in five minutes to flip a 1-0 loss into a 2-1 win for the Earthquakes at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Some athletes claim they don’t even bother to think about bad nights or bad moments, but Wondo admitted after the game he had been dwelling on the miscues to open his season.

“It was monumental for me [to score the goals],” he told reporters in the postgame press conference. “To be honest, the first two weeks I probably had my worst two plays of my career, back-to-back. I can’t be thankful enough for the teammates that I have that picked me up. Also the coaching staff, I say Matias [Almeyda] and a lot of it is Matias but it’s his coaching staff, with Omar [Zarif] and Guido [Bonini] as well. Those guys really helped propel me and so that’s why I wanted to repay them. They’ve been the wind behind my back and I’ve needed them these last couple weeks. I’m proud of this group and proud to be a part of it.”

San Jose went down just before halftime to a bicycle kick golazo from Rubio Rubin. With RSL seeming to beat San Jose at their own game for most of the night, Almeyda threw caution to the wind, and made a triple substitution, including Wondo, while also bringing on more attacking players to push for an equalizer.

Late comebacks are firmly an Earthquakes tradition at this point, but Wondolowski said when he’s a substitute and enters a match when his team is chasing the game, his aim is to hope to get that chance or two to turn it around.

“You have to stay optimistic, and that’s something luckily as a striker I can always be optimistic. I can always think that that chance is coming to me and go finish it and make that run,” Wondolowski said.

With Wondo feeling the boost of his teammates and the coaching staff in recent weeks, the good vibes are permeating the club, according to attacker Carlos Fierro.

“We’re spending a lot more time bonding together, getting to know one another. I’m really happy with where the team is now, and going to continue to go on that path,” Fierro told reporters via interpreter.

In adjusting to a substitute’s role over the past several seasons, Wondolowski explained the tweak he was able to make in the game based on what he witnessed before he entered the match.

“I also had the opportunity to study the game. I think Cade [Cowell] absolutely grinded and wore down those two center backs but playing at altitude throughout the game I noticed the ball would sail,” Wondo explained. “It looked like it’d come to someone’s chest and it would end up at their neck or head.

“And so it sailed those extra two yards and to be honest on the second goal, when it left Fierro’s foot, I had the patience and the wherewithal to stay there, because I believe it was Justen Glad, he took a step forward and I would have done the same as well. I think at sea level that ball gets there and he clears it. I kind of stayed the course and was able to pick the point and finish it.”

“And great ball by Fierro. Oh my gosh, what a ball, by the way,” he added.

For his part, Fierro’s part in the play seemed to come from instinct and a well-timed instruction from Almeyda.

“I believe it started with a pass from Lucho [Abecasis], who sent it over to me, it landed on my feet and I just took it over. I remember hearing Matias yell over ‘Cross it, cross it!’ So I did. I always know that Wondo or Andy [Rios] or both are always there in the area ready to receive service, so thanks to God it landed at Wondo and he was able to score it,” Fierro said.

And whether it was divine intervention, insightful studying, or a combination of the two, Wondolowski showed on Friday that he indeed still has it.

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