SAN JOSE, Calif. — For once, it was the San Jose Earthquakes that earned points with a comeback, as Chris Wondolowski scored late to earn his side a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC.
The Avaya Stadium crowd roared its approval at the captain’s goal, the 141st of his MLS career, but they they were still disappointed not to see a victory. It’s been nearly six months since the Quakes have won at home, the longest such streak in club history.
San Jose has two more games on this homestand to break that ignominious record, against conference foes Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas. The coaches and team will try to learn all they can from the 1-1 result with TFC as they prepare for those games.
Wondo’s still wonderful
For the fourth straight game, Wondolowski found himself out of the starting eleven, as head coach Mikael Stahre elected to again go with an attacking duo of Danny Hoesen and Vako. No worries for the 35-year-old MLS legend, as he spent his time on the bench studying the game, looking for weaknesses in the opponent that he might be able to exploit when he does get his chance.
“I pay attention to the game,” Wondolowski said. “To be honest, I watched Magnus’ [first half] attempt that was blocked, and I said, ‘Oh, that could be a chip.’ I do try to pay attention, and when I step on the field make any impact I can. I do want to help the team in any way. I do like starting, but I don’t mind coming off the bench.”
The veteran striker paused and chuckled before addressing the question, choosing his words before delivering his reply. It’s been an adjustment to becoming a substitute that is not of his own choosing, and being the competitor he is, but also the team player he is known to be, he wasn’t complaining about his role.
“You want to prove that you deserve time out there and earn minutes any way you can,” Wondolowski continued. “You know, I thought Danny played well. I was surprised to go in for him. I just wanted to go out there and do my thing.”
Wondolowski’s equalizer, scored in the 77th minute, was a deftly chipped effort that followed an initial save by Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono. The first shot was directly at Bono, but he spilled the ball in space, allowing Wondolowski to finish. The Quakes forward, a big basketball fan, when straight to a hoops analogy to describe his goal.
“I thought Nick make a break on the ball, so I starting making my run,” Wondolowski said. “He played a great ball through, and with my blazing speed, I had to pull up for three, and luckily when I rolled it to the ‘keeper, he gave me a rebound.”
His slightly self deprecating response — pace has never been Wondo’s strength — underplayed the importance of the goal and the quality of the finish. Lined up opposite Wondolowski was former Earthquakes teammate Jason Hernandez, and he saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“It was typical Wondo fashion, Hernandez said. “The only person that was going to be able to get to that rebound was him. For some reason, he just happens to be there. It’s never luck. It’s the fact that he gambles, and reads the game, and takes his chances. He was fortunate tonight, and he made the most of it, but that’s the story of many, many Wondo goals.”
The fans at Avaya Stadium were pleased to see Hernandez, a member of the famed 2012 Supporters’ Shield team, and he received applause from the crowd in the pregame introductions as well as countless requests for photos and autographs following the final whistle. He, of course, obliged, but the long night came at the end of an even longer week for the Toronto centerback and his teammates.
“It’s been one of the toughest schedules and travel grinds I’ve been a part of in my 14 years in the league, this past month,” Hernandez explained. “So to win a cup final on Wednesday and then come here and grind out a result in a general sense is good, but we feel we should have had all three points.”
Toronto captured the Canadian Championship over the Vancouver Whitecaps last Wednesday with a resounding 5-2 victory at BMO Place. The team then had to recover, travel cross-continent, and play an Earthquakes side that, while in last place, is playing better than during any stretch this season. It was going to be a tall task for TFC to get the win.
“We had a lot of guys on the field in different spots, some guys were still recovering from Wednesday, some guys were getting their first minutes in a while, like myself,” Hernandez said. “It took a little bit to find our game, but as the game went on, we were able to impose ourselves and did some good things. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find that second goal and they equalized. That’s life on the road.”
The defending MLS Cup champions might end up rueing the result, especially as they need all the points they can get down the stretch. With only ten games left on its schedule, Toronto FC are nine points out of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. There is a strong possibility that last year’s champs will fail at the opportunity to defend their title.
The return of Joel
With regular starters Shea Salinas and Harold Cummings unavailable due to suspension and injury respectively, Stahre looked down his squad list for replacements against TFC. Florian Jungwirth, who had been supplanted as a central midfielder by Luis Felipe, came in as a centerback, and Joel Qwiberg, an almost forgotten man in San Jose, took over at left back.
“I haven’t played in a long time, but I think it was ok,” Qwiberg said after the game. “Especially because I had help from my teammates. Flo in front of me did a really good game. Everyone today had a solid performance and that helped me a lot. I think it was a good performance from the whole team.”
Qwiberg’s only other appearance this season came back on April 7 at the Philadelphia Union. He has played some with Reno 1868 FC, the Quakes USL affiliate, but his time with the first team had been barren.
Still, the Colombian born Swedish defender trained hard and waited for his opportunity. His start against Toronto also marked his first appearance in front of the home fans, and they witnessed an opponent that took the ball at Qwiberg early and often.
“Yeah, but I am quite used to that, so I was not too surprised,” Qwiber said. “I am not the biggest guy, so I am used to opponents kicking the ball through my side, so you just have to handle it.”
TFC’s goal by Lucas Janson came from a cross created on Qwiberg’s side of the field, as Gregory van der Wiel delivered a pinpoint pass across the penalty box after receiving the ball in space from Sebastian Giovinco. It was a quick strike by the visitors; one that left Qwiberg as more of an observer than a defender.
“We lost the ball in a dangerous position and Giovinco played fast to get the ball outside,” Qwiberg said. “There was very little I could do.”
The left back was otherwise okay on the night, and though he is unlikely to keep his starting role in the next game against Vancouver, it was important to see that Qwiberg can be ready when called upon to play.