Wondo lifts Earthquakes to season opener victory

For the better part of his career, Chris Wondolowski has been the face of the San Jose Earthquakes offense. Looks like things aren’t changing anytime soon.

On a header from the 33-year-old striker barely a minute into the second half, San Jose kicked off their 2016 campaign with a 1-0 victory at Avaya Stadium against the visiting Colorado Rapids Sunday.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Earthquakes locker room at Avaya Stadium.

The goal was a perfectly positioned headed finish. Not even a roaring crowd and three orbiting center backs could put off Wondolowski’s focus:

“When I see the ball in the air, it’s just — silence.”

Just a day after Wondolowski renounced his designated player status to help his side meet league roster compliance regulations, he showed it isn’t titles that makes stars, it’s performance.

Throughout the preseason, head coach Dom Kinnear emphasized that offense was a key point in need of improvement. The Quakes offense was relatively stagnant in the first half, producing three total shots, just one of which was on target.

In the second, however, the offense found their feet — and a couple of great chances to go with it.

The game’s sole score came in the 46th minute when Quakes debutant Alberto Quintero — on season-long loan from Lobos BUAP — lofted a soft curling cross from the right wing. Wondo burst through the back line for a well-aimed header into the top right corner past a speculative dive by goalkeeper Zac MacMath.

Wondo was quick to defer credit to the Panamanian midfielder, claiming his role was just to finish the play that Quintero had already made:

“Alberto just put it on a platter. It was a great ball by him and I was able to tap it in.”

The limited chances were understandable in the first half, considering Colorado held an intimidating  70 percent of possession after the first half-hour. San Jose spent much of that time stuck in their own half, struggling with the pressure of the Rapids defense.

The Quakes (1-0) continued to create chances in the second half, as Wondo very nearly doubled his goal tally in the 71st minute with another header similar to his first. This time, however, MacMath got low and blocked the shot with his body, keeping the match a close contest.

The goal seemed to take the steam out of the Colorado offense until late. Perhaps the best Colorado chance was in the 81st minute off a direct free kick from substitute Marco Pappa, a former MLS All-Star and a key member of the past few years’ Seattle Sounders sides. Pappa’s shot from about thirty yards out curled just wide and past David Bingham.

In the 83rd minute, defender and former US youth international Eric Miller had a shot on goal tipped away by a fully-extended Bingham. Bingham shined with a solid start in goal, making three or four tremendous saves on would-be scoring plays. In the 90th minute, Pappa found another seam in the box before his header got past Bingham and glanced off the outside of the left post, trickling wide.

Bingham was happy with the performance but acknowledged future competition might demand a better performance:

“It was a good game defensively. There were obviously moments where we weren’t up to par but we went in to get the win and we got the shutout today and we know what we need to work on going forward.”

Stoppage time consisted mainly of the Rapids (0-1) desperately trying to get crosses into the box while the Quakes wasted time on retained possession. Colorado managed a few last-minute efforts, including a Dominique Badji shot just seconds before the final whistle, but Bingham held on — and so did San Jose.

A number of players made their Earthquakes debuts Sunday, like Alberto Quintero and Simon Dawkins, though Dawkins was making his return, having played with San Jose in 2013. An unexpectedly special debut was made by third-round draft pick, defender Kip Colvey. Colvey came on at half time after an injury to regular left back, Shaun Francis. He was officially announced to have made the roster just two days before the match.

Kinnear was pleased with the performance and the overall journey the young defender has taken to get to this appearance.

“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think, first day of preseason, that I’d be putting Kip Colvey in the opening game at half time. He’s shown enough good play that he’s got confidence from his coaching staff that he can play in this league.”

Injuries are definitely an issue for the depleted Quakes roster, and depth players like Colvey will have to step up in the wake of injuries to guys like Shaun Francis, Marc Pelosi, Fatai Alashe, just to name a few. Kinnear made no effort to dodge the grim health status of the roster:

“Everybody that was healthy, or not suspended, was part of our bench today, which kind of shows you where our roster is.”

The Earthquakes return to the Avaya Stadium pitch next Sunday, as they host the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers at 4 p.m.