SANTA CLARA, Calif. – When San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop was asked this week if his team had become too reliant on Chris Wondolowski to pull the club’s goal-scoring weight, he had a rebuttal at the ready.
“No,” Yallop said. “We always said we wanted one of the top goal-scorers and we’ve got one. Funnier things have happened – [Wondolowski] might not score in the playoffs, but we might go all the way.”
That scenario seems even more far-fetched than ever Saturday night after the New York Red Bulls beat the Quakes 1-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
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It was bad enough that the Red Bulls could have won by three or four goals if not for the reflexes and athletic ability of goalkeeper Jon Busch. But what was even worse was the way New York was able to break up the linkage between Wondolowski and his teammates that had been instrumental in helping the 27-year-old explode onto the MLS scene this season with a league-best 18 goals.
And given that the Quakes’ last 10 tallies have all come from Wondolowski, that’s a very unnerving fact heading into the second half of the aggregate-goals series, set for Thursday at Red Bull Arena (8 p.m., ESPN2).
“The statistics don’t lie: If Chris isn’t scoring, we’re having trouble finding goals,” Quakes center back Jason Hernandez said. “It’s a challenge for our other guys to step up and make some plays.
“We’re just going to go [to New York] and not change much and really be aggressive and hopefully, we’ll get some goals out there.”
The best way to starve Wondolowski is to cut off his service, and New York coach Hans Backe drew up a plan to that effect.
Geovanni did launch a number of crosses from his new spot on the right wing, but he never made a delivery that put Wondolowski in open space, even for a just a second or two.
“We said we have to try to stress them high, force them as much as possible to long passes,” Backe said. “Don’t give them time and space. I know with Geovanni, if he gets time and space, he will be the one with the final passes, the killer passes. We have to close him down. And [Bobby] Convey, the same.”
For his part, Yallop remained serenely confident that another player would step to the fore, in the manner that Joel Lindpere did for the Red Bulls on Saturday.
“We’ve got [potentially] three games to sort that out,” Yallop said. “You can’t go through a number of games without somebody else coming up and scoring to help Chris out. … Somebody’s going to pop up and hopefully make the difference for us.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes
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