SANDY, Utah – When Real Salt Lake faces off against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), the objective, as always, will be three points. To get there, though, they’ll need to shut down Chris Wondolowski, the league's most prolific striker since 2010.
A tall order, but Jason Kreis' men have some experience with it. Wondolowski has found the back of the net an amazing 41 times in just 64 games - but never against RSL.
“Leading up to games like this you always have to ask the question, ‘where’s Wondo?’,” laughed central defender Nat Borchers after a mid-week training session.
However, Borchers feels like the key to defending well against him may be in limiting his touches.
“Every time the ball goes wide – every time a midfielder or defender gets setup – you’ve got to find them,” said Borchers. “You’ve got to make sure you get a body on him. He’s got a nose for goal, and so you’ve got to be careful.”
Wondolowski's appearance may not bely a lethal goalscoring threat, but he nearly always seems to get the job done.
“When I look at Wondo I think that could be me,” said defender Chris Wingert. “He’s not overly athletic or does anything crazy, but let’s give the guy some credit. It’s been really impressive what he’s done. He’s a clinical finisher. “
Coach Jason Kreis feels that finishing ability, along with positioning are what make him successful.
“I think he’s just very intelligent about the runs that he makes in the box,” said Kreis. “He just has a sense of timing to get on the end of things. On top of all that, I think he’s a very, very good finisher. A lot of forwards need lots of chances to score one goal. I feel like he needs one and a half chances to score one goal.”
Salt Lake is one of just two teams that Wondolowski has played against since the start of the 2010 season that he has not scored upon – the other being his original squad, the Houston Dynamo. Ned Grabavoy wonders if it’s not just the stingy RSL defense that’s been the key to keeping Wondolowski in check.
“Jamison [Olave] and Nat [Borchers] and Chris Schuler and some of the defenders probably aren’t the easiest guys to play against,” said Grabavoy. “Jamison’s obviously a guy that’s a physical guy, and Chris is a bit of a nat up there, he’s buzzing around. He likes the contact, and he can get in your head a little bit. So maybe Nat and Jamison and those guys deal with him a little bit better.”
And there's no "maybe" about the fact that the Salt Lake defense would like to keep it that way.