A few days before Toronto FC played Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes, head coach Greg Vanney issued an assessment of the scoring machine that also served as a warning to his players.
“He is very, very clever. Fox in the box, that's him,” Vanney said. “A true finisher, a true box forward. It's a craft that over the years he has continued to hone to the tune of the best goal-scorer in MLS history.
“If he's on the field, you can't take him for granted, ever. You always have to have, not just an eye on him, but a presence because he will slip away. When defenders end up watching the ball, he'll find a gap and he's got a knack for anticipation, for where the ball is going to arrive. I'd venture to guess that 75 to 80 per cent of his goals were inside 15 yards.”
Based on the evidence of San Jose’s 2-1 win over TFC on Sunday night, Vanney’s players weren’t listening. Wondolowski, 36, scored both of the Earthquakes’ goals and he scored both of them from the box with nary a Reds defender in sight.
Even without Vanney’s warning, TFC should have been well aware of the danger Wondolowski presented. He went into the game as a familiar Reds killer with nine career goals against them. Now he has 11 and he ran his MLS-best career goals to 150.
This did not make for a happy Vanney afterward when he was asked about his defenders’ performance on both goals.
“Yeah, I think it’s b.s.,” Vanney said. “We can talk about it. The dude can score 150 goals in our league, 120 of them are the same way. We don’t have the presence in the situation to find that guy’s body, to know where he is. That just has to be better.”
What was frustrating for Vanney was that overall he thought his team’s performance was not bad. They managed to handle the Earthquakes’ hard marking game despite the fact they were missing all of their star players.
Missing from the lineup were midfielders Michael Bradley, Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonathan Osorio. Bradley was out with a sore hamstring, which is believed to be the first time since 2016 he missed a game due to injury. Osorio, according to the Reds, is “dealing with discomfort in his hip and groin.” Pozeulo was serving a one-game suspension for getting a red card in last week’s 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.
The Reds even took the lead when Richie Laryea, who earned a start due to the missing trio, scored his first MLS goal. The 24-year-old Toronto native converted a cross from Jozy Altidore in the 28th minute.
But the lead lasted just 11 minutes until San Jose forward Cristian Espinosa was given enough room to take a long pass and put a cross into the middle for Wondolowski’s first goal. His second goal, in the 81st minute, was a replay of the first, only Espinosa had even more time to make the cross.
“It’s a matter of executing in the boxes. That was the game,” Vanney said. “Each team was just trying to gain some advantage in the game and then execute on that advantage. They got two [goals] off switches of play. We don’t close out the crosser, give him too much space.
“He just smashes one across the face of the goal, we don’t know where the forward is, the one guy who’s leading the league history in scoring, we don’t even know where he is and he just side-flips one in. Again, he’s scored 120 of 150 goals like that.”
Veteran Reds defender Drew Moor took the blame for the first goal, saying he was aware of Wondolowski but doesn’t know how Espinosa put the ball past him.
“The first one, we have to deny the service,” Moor said. “I’ve got to be closer to [Wondolowski]. I thought I had him, I was right there. I don’t know how it went by me or under me or around me.
“That’s why he’s scored 967 goals. He finds a way to put the ball in the back of the net. It’s got to be better from, for sure, myself and we’ve got to deny the service as well.”
On the plus side, it was Altidore’s first start since being troubled by a strained hamstring over the past month. But without Pozuelo and Osorio, Altidore spent much of the game looking for someone to get him the ball.
Just after the opening kickoff, there was a bittersweet moment for the crowd, perhaps more bitter than sweet. The scoreboard video screen showed departed superstar Sebastian Giovinco, who bolted for a Saudi Arabian club after a contract with TFC could not be settled, standing in a private box at BMO Field with Reds president Bill Manning. The announced crowd 23,524 gave Giovinco a warm ovation and he responded by holding his hand over his heart.