The latest odds-makers have given San Jose just a 36% chance to make the MLS playoffs this year. Fans are facing yet another season of playoff drought, and blame abounds: we’re still feeling the aftershocks of the Doyle administration, Dom Kinnear’s early-season lackadaisical performances put the Quakes behind early, we’re cursed by the soccer gods. Some fans have even pointed the finger at the Quakes’ bread-and-butter goal scorer: 34-year-old forward/Captain Chris Wondolowski, and that’s unfair.
No, Wondo is not the same player that he was four years ago. Yes, he did have his PK blocked in the U.S. Open Cup, which is sacrilege for a goal-scorer in a penalty shoot-out. Yes, he is the captain of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, possibly five. But to say Wondo is the culprit for the Quakes’ woes is not looking at the entire team picture.
Wondo is doing exactly what a 34-year-old striker should do: score goals, but not a record clip. On the season, Wondo has nine goals and five assists, both of which lead the team. At his age, Wondo is not supposed to be the guy leading the team’s offense. That responsibility should have been passed off to a younger, more versatile player years ago. While Wondo should still be team’s captain, if the Quakes are looking for Wondo to be the team’s leader in scoring for an eighth consecutive season, they are following the wrong formula for winning.
Another reason the finger gets unfairly pointed at Wondo, especially after this latest loss in Houston, is the “Wondo at mid” experiment, something I’ve been harping on since Dom Kinnear’s attempt to drop Wondo back and have him be the clean-up guy on the counter-attack since 2015. It never worked as Wondo saw few touches while playing as a withdrawn forward, and resorted to passing the ball backwards rather than dribbling/passing up field since he’s not the best ball-handler. The move also removed him from what made him so great: an inside-the-box poacher to a top-of-the-box shot-taker. This latest match in Houston was yet another failed example of how Wondo is not a midfielder: 38 touches, two shots (zero shots on target). Awful numbers, but don’t blame the player for the coach’s decision to play him in a position where he is destined to fail.
The Quakes tried to hire more goal scorers, but none have been able to fill the void left by bash brothers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. Innocent Emeghara–
who is not playing competitive soccer anymore despite being just 28 years old (update: Innocent was *just* signed by Cyprus team Ermis Aradippou today)–made a strong case for the worst DP signing in MLS history and never materialized into the striker Doyle thought he would be. Chad Barrett and Mark Sherrod were never given quality opportunities to showcase their skills as Dom Kinnear opted to play Quincy Amarikwa over the two veteran strikers; Quincy Amarikwa finished with three goals last season (three!). And even this season, Marco Urena has played 19 matches, yet only has netted three goals on the year, while Danny Hoeson has two league goals and three assists in 23 appearances (14 starts). No one except Wondo, and I mean NO ONE, on the Quakes team can consistently score goals. Without Wondo, the entire Quakes team has 259 total shots, with just 73 on frame, for a 28.2% conversion rate. Do not blame Wondo for this atrociousness.
The solution is simple: splash the cash for a quality DP striker and let Wondo continue to do what he does best: be opportunistic. With Dawkins leaving at the end of the season, and thus solidifying John Doyle as the worst GM in professional sports history, the Quakes will have an opportunity to sign a third DP. Hopefully this next offseason will allow GM Jesse Fioranelli to finalize his vision for San Jose and make the team a contender. However, with Fioranelli signing Vako as a third DP and hiring a guy with no head-coaching experience to be the fulltime head coach of a tier-one team in the middle of a season with playoffs on the line, the soccer gods may actually have beef with San Jose by gifting us with general managers that only manage to keep us out of playoff contention, so blame them instead.