KeyBank Match-up of the Match: Eric Brunner vs. Chris Wondolowski
In 2005, the then-San Jose Earthquakes spent their 4th round (41st overall) pick in the MLS Supplemental Draft to select a young player out of Chico State named Chris Wondolowski. A year later, the team would be relocated to Texas and newly rechristened as the Houston Dynamo. It was also in Houston in 2006 that John Spencer was named as an assistant coach for the Dynamo and came into contact with the young striker.
With Spencer in charge as head coach for the Dynamo Reserves squad, Wondolowski became his leading scorer in 2006 (13 goals) and 2007 (7 goals). By 2008, Wondo was the Reserve team captain leading them to the Reserve League championship. He also was frequently used as a late-game sub with the first team in the first of the Dynamo's back-to-back MLS Cup Championships.
Fast forward to 2011: John Spencer is at the reigns of new MLS side Portland Timbers and Chris Wondolowski has since been traded back to a newly formed San Jose Earthquakes in 2009 exploding into one of the more fearsome goal scorers in the league. After a breakout season in 2010 where Wondowlowski won the Golden Boot award with 18 goals, he was named to the U.S. National team for the 2011 Gold Cup.
For the Timbers, Wondolowski presents one of the best pure goal scorers in the league and one that Spencer is keenly aware of in Saturday's match in San Jose (7:30 pm PT, Fox 12, estrellaTV 8.3, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM). His threat on the attack is not to be underestimated and it brings us to Timbers soccer analyst Robbie Earle’s KeyBank Match-up of the Match.
KeyBank Match-up of the Match
Though Spencer is well aware of Wondolowski’s skills, he has repeatedly said this season the he doesn’t like to have his team man-mark players individually. That said, Timbers centerback Eric Brunner will have an important role to play in leading the Portland backline.
After a red card in the waning moments in the Timbers home match against Seattle that led to a Sounders PK, Brunner’s form had dipped a bit. His rise back into his stalwart assertive self culminated with a terrific goal against the Galaxy in the Timbers’ confidence-boosting 3-0 victory at JELD-WEN Field on Wednesday.
While Brunner’s ability on set pieces is handy, it will be his stable and calm aggressiveness on defense that will be the important element against Wondolowski. The Timbers midfield could be in a bit of flux for the match given Diego Chara’s suspension due to yellow card accumulation and captain Jack Jewsbury’s hamstring injury making him a gametime decision. Whoever ends up playing in the central midfield will know that Brunner’s leadership in the back will prove to be an important asset against the formidible Wondolowski.
If the Timbers as a whole can hold their shape as effectively as they did against LA—where equally threatening Landon Donovan was held to absolutely zero shots on the night—then the Timbers could pick up a very important three points in their hunt for the playoffs.