SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
-In classic Chris Wondolowski style, the Earthquakes captain dished off the credit after becoming the ninth player in MLS history to reach the 100-goal plateau in a 1-1 draw against Orlando City SC at Levi’s Stadium.“I appreciate everyone that helped me along the way, starting from youth, high school, college, and all the way up the ranks,” the Danville native said. “I appreciate all my teammates, because I couldn’t do it without them.”
The tie, which extended the Earthquakes’ unbeaten streak to five games (2-0-3), will be remembered mostly for Wondo’s game-tying penalty kick in the 68th minute which put him in the Century Club. He is tied with Edson Buddle for eighth on the all-time scoring list, one goal behind Taylor Twellman and four behind ex-Earthquake Dwayne De Rosario.
“It’s an incredible achievement,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said. “It couldn’t happen to a better guy. I wouldn’t say it’s the end of his story, but it’s a great accomplishment for a person who has really overcome a lot. And he’s done a lot of it on his own. I’m sure he’s had the support of his family and friends — and a belief in himself — but the guy takes the practice field every day and wants to do one thing: He wants to play and he wants to score.”
Players, fans and coaches love Wondolowski’s work ethic and humility, going from De La Salle High to Chico State to the Chico Rooks to an MLS reserve player to a superstar.
Wondolowski’s landmark goal, his 96th goal as an Earthquake, came four minutes after Kaka converted a penalty kick for Orlando City. A pushed-up Jordan Stewart drew the penalty kick by taking a foul off a Matias Perez Garcia corner kick.
On the kick, Wondolowski used his power of observation.
“I was planning on going to my right and was going to hit it firm, and I saw that Tally got a good jump on it, so I was able to just roll it the other way,” Wondolowski said. “I took a little peek up.”
For Stewart’s part, he was seeing shadows before absorbing the foul that turned Wondo into Mr. 100.
“I didn’t realize where the ball was, and then I saw the shadow and heard everyone saying, ‘It’s behind you. It’s behind you.’ As I turned, I was going to cross it first time and (Darwin Ceren) was speeding at me, so I tried to get my body across just to try to shield the ball, and he ran into me and knocked me over. Fortunately, we got the penalty and Wondo put it away.”
How has Wondolowski’s game evolved the past five years?
“I think just confidence,” Wondolowski said. “It’s something I wanted so bad that sometimes I’d run myself out of good opportunities, good movement. Now I know to just let the game come to me. I trust it. The game’s slowed down a bit. I’ve adjusted to it.”
But the Quakes mostly wanted the number three on Sunday, as in three points for a victory.
A draw at home after playing with a man-advantage over the final 39 minutes wasn’t what they had in mind. Orlando City’s Brek Shea was shown a red card in the 51st minute for a studs-up tackle on Sanna Nyassi.
Playing with speed and confidence, Shea Salinas, who scored in a 2-0 win over Columbus on May 16 at Avaya Stadium, created heavy pressure in the first half, working in combination with Adam Jahn and Perez Garcia. But Salinas’ shot was saved by Hall in the 12th minute; and his blast on goal 10 minutes later hit the side-netting.
But Orlando City was full of confidence and very organized in the back, coming off a 4-0 trouncing of the LA Galaxy. Orlando is not your average expansion side.
Next, the Earthquakes (5-4-3, 18 points), in a tie for fourth in the Western Conference, will have a tough challenge against Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. Toronto FC is coming off a 1-0 win over Portland, courtesy of a brilliant goal by Sebastian Giovinco.
“We have 11 playing as one and that’s kind of been our mentality,” Wondolowski said. “We weren’t really clicking in the final third (against Orlando), but it was a great shift that we put in from all the guys. We have to carry that mentality to Toronto. They’re a good team, very confident. So,we have to do a little bit better, but keep that same mentality.”
The plaudits keep coming for Quakes rookie midfielder Fatai Alashe, a U.S. U-23 selection who did an effective job marking Orlando superstar Kaka – no easy proposition.
“He’s definitely drawing some tough opponents, and he’s playing well,” Kinnear said. “He was composed on the ball. At times, a couple balls kind of got away from him a little bit, but I think the kid deserves a big thumbs up for what he’s done this year, and he’s going to continue to get better which is a great thing.”
Kinnear is pleased with team’s position after a tough stretch of games.
“I think we’ve had five home games out of 12, so really happy with the guys,” he said. “The competitive spirit is great. At times we look a great team, which shows the potential that we have, and to see the company we’re keeping at that point in the Western Conference, we’re doing something right.”