Two days after being named MLS Player of the Month for the second time this season—a recognition of his three goals in as many league games during June, each of which ended up being the decisive goal in an eventual win—San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski very nearly showed the predatory instinct that has made him one of the premier players in Major League Soccer.
In fact, were it not for two timely interventions by FC Dallas defender Hernán Pertúz and keeper Kevin Hartman, both of whom cleared Wondolowski efforts off the goal line, the Earthquakes could well have escaped a brutal stretch of games, which has seen them play six times in 18 days, with a 2-0 victory.
But Dallas made interventions when it needed to, and the game, which failed to fire for most of the 90 minutes, ended in a 0-0 draw. A positive result from the Earthquakes perspective, especially when viewed in light of their 2-1 defeat to Portland Timbers on Tuesday.
The draw took the Earthquakes' record this season to 11-4-4.
Heat was a factor—it was 80 degrees in Frisco, Tex. by the time kickoff rolled around, and within 10 minutes Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch, recovered from an eye injury in that unforgettable L.A. Galaxy match one week before to take his place in goal, showed the effects of the sweltering clime.
A patch of sweat, normally reserved for outfield players after a half or so of play, developed on Busch's goalkeeper jersey in those opening minutes. While the Earthquakes are accustomed to adverse conditions playing in San Jose, where summer temperatures frequently rise into the 80s or 90s, there is something to be said about the oppressive nature of Texas's own weather.
That heat lingers.
Brek Shea, one of the anointed golden boys in U.S. Soccer's next generation of stars (he trained with English Premier League side Arsenal this past winter), was the danger man in attack early on for FC Dallas.
His teammates were looking to find him, often with his back to goal, and he gave Earthquakes defender Hector Bernardez fits with a series of feinted turns that erased the sturdy Honduran far too easily.
The Earthquakes were dominating possession, however, and by the time 30 minutes rolled around had a 58-42 percent advantage in that department. Outside of a few Shea opportunities, they could be fairly pleased with their performance.
In the 36th minute, they finally launched on the offensive.
Wondolowski was played in behind the Dallas defense on the left edge of the penalty area, and after nearly being pulled back by Pertúz, stayed upright and succeeded in chipping Hartman, who could only flail helplessly as Wondolowski's goal-bound shot edged toward the back of the net.
But Pertúz provided the saving grace, rushing past Wondolowski and clearing the delicate shot off the line to keep the game scoreless.
The Earthquakes weren't done threatening, however, and just before the end of the first half winger Marvin Chavez dummied Carlos Rodriguez on the right sideline, charging toward the endline where he cut back for Steven Beitashour.
The right-back's side-footed effort skied over Hartman's goal, however, and with Alan Gordon at the near post and Wondolowski arriving at the other end, Chavez might have been expected to pick out a better pass for what could have been his ninth assist of the season.
The second half was a bit of a yawner, with chances coming fewer and farther between (neither team succeeded in lodging a shot on goal in the first half).
Earthquakes midfielder and captain Ramiro Corrales was sent off with just over 10 minutes to go for a clumsy challenge on Rodriguez, clipping the defender as he looked to cut past him infield.
Rodriguez made the most of the cynical clip, howling and shaking his finger as he rolled around, but it was a sloppy challenge from a man on a yellow card. In a road match, with his team tiring around him, Corrales should be expected to have a clearer head.
It almost didn't matter that the Earthquakes were reduced to 10 men, however. In the 84th minute, substitute Khari Stephenson played fellow sub Shea Salinas in on the right flank.
With Wondolowski matching the speedy winger, playing in his second game after returning from a fractured ankle, stride for stride, Salinas showed some of his rust by taking just one touch too many and allowing Hartman to deflect his effort harmlessly away.
As he had been for most of the match, which had seen opportunities come at a premium, Wondolowski was frustrated.
Just seconds later, however, Wondolowski almost had himself another winner in a season when he's saved his side on countless occasions.
Beating a Dallas offside trap, the forward latched on to Sam Cronin's through ball and, occupying the position Salinas had just been in on the right, opted to go for goal, unleashing a venomous low drive that dribbled through Hartman's clutches and through his legs.
The keeper had slowed down the shot just enough, though, to successfully pounce upon it before it could filter into the open goal.
That would prove to be the Earthquakes' last real chance in the match, and while a 0-0 draw against a foundering Dallas side wouldn't normally be cause for celebration, taking a point on the road in a game where tired legs reigned supreme (how could they not, given how far the Quakes had come—literally and figuratively—in 18 days) wasn't the worst possible result.
Far from it.