Vancouver entered Buck Shaw Stadium with plenty of confidence and its usual game plan in place to procure a road result.
Everything went according to plan for 60 minutes or so. The best chances fell to the Whitecaps in a fairly mundane opening stanza. The second half started with Sébastien Le Toux's neat finish after the usually defiant Earthquakes fell asleep on a throw-in deep in the left corner. Three points appeared on the cards, while a point looked all but assured.
And then Chris Wondolowski happened.
The Earthquakes' talisman – and, really, at this point, does that honorific even do him justice? – injected new life into his team by ghosting past Jay DeMerit on a throw-in, holding him off despite a robust challenge and waiting just that extra instant to scoop over the prone Joe Cannon to equalize on 68 minutes.
Wondolowski's trademark display of clever movement and predatory finishing ended the Whitecaps' MLS-record shutout streak to open the season (427 minutes) and sparked a stunning fightback. Alan Gordon dove across Martin Bonjour to head home the second four minutes later. Wondolowski capped the 10-minute resurgence by sliding away from his marker and tapping home a free kick at the back stick.
“In a lot of ways, the difference was Wondolowski,” Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie told reporters after the match. “He scored two goals out of nothing. That changed the game, in my opinion.”
It isn't a particularly startling trend for opposing coaches to notice how much Wondolowski influences games. His prolific rate of return is hard to miss. He has scored six times already this season and tallied 43 goals in 77 appearances since returning to the Earthquakes in 2009.
While those numbers are impressive enough by themselves, this one stat does the best job of assessing his impact on the Earthquakes as a whole: Wondolowski has scored 17 game-winning goals since the start of the 2010 season. No player in MLS can match that record of deciding games during the same stretch. Few have ever done it so consistently during such a short period of time.
In this age of constant comparison, devout star worship and instant gratification, the magnitude of those achievements and the implausibility of Wondolowski's entire story (reserve team player in Houston to top domestic goalscorer in San Jose in less than 12 months?) do not always attract the attention they deserve. But other distractions should not diminish the fact that Wondolowski has cobbled together one of the league's most impressive and unique stretches of play over the past couple of years.
If he continues to receive the type of support he has garnered from his teammates for most of the first five games, this particular narrative could and should expand to encompass the overall achievements of a side that has performed considerably better than anticipated this season. For now, though, the focus remains squarely trained upon Wondolowski's proclivity to do what he does best: scoring goals and turning games for his team on a regular basis.
“The team is playing well right now and creating opportunities for me. I’ve just been the beneficiary of those chances,” Wondolowski told reporters after the game. “The most important thing is that we are winning these games, especially being in the Western Conference where points are at a premium. Any time you can take points from another conference rival, you’ll take that every time”.
Five Points – Week 5
1. Red Bulls romp into the record books with another resounding win: No MLS side had won three consecutive games by three or more goals before New York thumped Columbus, 4-1, at Crew Stadium on Saturday afternoon, according to some thorough digging by Steve Davis at Pro Soccer Talk and Peter Hirdt at the Elias Sports Bureau. Another associated tidbit from Hirdt on Thierry Henry's continued brilliance (two goals, one assist against the overwhelmed Crew): the former Arsenal man is the first MLS player to collect a goal and an assist in three consecutive games since former Crew midfielder John Wilmar Pérez accomplished the feat in 2001.
2. Gulf in class apparent as top of the table Sporting Kansas City brushes aside struggling Los Angeles: It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see Peter Vermes' unblemished side emerge with a victory over the Galaxy. But the ease of Sporting's victory should serve as a troublesome warning for Bruce Arena in a season already pockmarked by too many setbacks. Sporting dictated the terms of the affair from the outset (those parameters were too energetic and too quick for the Galaxy to handle, by the way) and glided to victory after Kei Kamara engineered the breakthrough five minutes before halftime. Los Angeles can point to fitness concerns for several of its regulars if it requires an excuse or two, but those qualifiers hold little weight for a side that has offered far less than required so far this season.
3. Burch almost grabs the last laugh against D.C. United: In case you somehow missed the week's best tempest in a teapot, Seattle left back Marc Burch – in the wake of giving away a needless penalty in last Saturday's 1-0 home defeat to San Jose, by the bye – lobbed a few barbs toward former teammate Daniel Woolard and his former team in the buildup to Saturday's game at RFK Stadium. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid responded to the tiff (and probably Burch's decision against the Earthquakes, too) by dropping his talkative left back to the bench for the 0-0 draw on Saturday night.
Burch finally ambled off the bench with a minute to play and nearly snatched a winner in second half stoppage time. He did well to react when Joe Willis pushed Osvaldo Alonso's stinging shot into his path, but he diverted the rebound off the crossbar to ensure this particular story line would not conclude with a dramatic ending.
“I just overran it a little bit,” Burch told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I knew [midfielder Osvaldo Alonso] was going to strike it well, and I just took off. If I had just hesitated for a second, I could have brought it down. It just popped up on me.”
4. Needless tinkering condemns Colorado to comprehensive defeat at Real Salt Lake: Oscar Pareja's side submitted a solid home performance to dispatch Chicago last Sunday. Instead of sticking with that formula and his preferred back four from the 2-0 victory over the Fire, Rapids coach Oscar Pareja decided to hand Drew Moor his first MLS start in midfield, push Jaime Castrillón to the forward line to rest Tony Cascio and slide Tyrone Marshall into central defense.
The changes backfired in RSL's dominant 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium. Moor looked out of place as RSL controlled play through midfield during the decisive first half. Marshall kept Álvaro Saborío onside for the opening goal by failing to match the line set by his fellow defenders as they pulled out of the penalty area. The final outcome left Pareja to justify his tactical tinkering.
“We wanted to be more solid defensively, partnering Drew with Jeff [Larentowicz],” Pareja explained to MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I thought it was a need to have somebody who could help Jeff to get the ball back for us. I thought we did a pretty good job in that part. But we gave [possession] right back to them.”
5. Another home defeat inspires John Spencer to bring out the nastiest epithet he could imagine: Spencer usually avoided this all-too-common slur during the club's inaugural season, but he trotted it out on Saturday night after the Timbers coughed up a fortunate first-half lead and succumbed to a Ryan Smith-inspired second half surge by Chivas USA.
“For me, we played like an expansion team tonight,” Spencer told MLSsoccer.com after the 2-1 defeat at JELD-WEN Field. “We played nervous in front of a big crowd, with not enough guys stepping up and taking responsibility.”
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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