SAN JOSE, Calif. — The fairy tale ending sizzled through the late-afternoon sky, tracing the arc of a shot off the right foot of San Jose Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski.
Almost 82 minutes into the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, and here was the moment many of the 18,000 fans had been waiting for Thursday: with the score tied 1-1, their franchise icon was facing a chance to win the biggest match in Avaya Stadium’s short history.
Wondolowski gestured with his left hand to Cyle Larin, who had been hemmed in by a pair of Arsenal defenders deep in the Gunners’ box. With a soft touch, the Canadian international laid the ball off for his American counterpart some 14 yards from goal.
“We were all thinking,” said MLS All-Star teammate Darlington Nagbe, “that he was going to score.”
Wondolowski took one step before striking the ball. Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez leapt to his right, but it was unnecessary. The shot — and the dream — flashed high past the crossbar.
Just five minutes later, Arsenal youngster Chuba Akpom made MLS pay for the miss, tapping home from the doorstep of an open net to give the Gunners a 2-1 victory.
“That would have been amazing [to score],” Wondolowski said. “I always want to do better. You always want to hit the frame and I wish I did better.”
Wondolowski was trying to come across the ball, to give it some bend around Martinez and curl into the far corner. Instead, he had a miss that left Quakes fans disappointed and MLS All-Star teammates surprised.
“He doesn’t miss too many of those,” said San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham, who was in net for the second half. “He’s arguably the greatest striker in the league right now, if you look at the output. He’s just a finisher. He’s a world-class finisher and he’s been like that for the last six or seven years now. If he gets that chance on the weekend, I bet you it goes in.”
Said Nagbe: “Nine times out of 10, he scores that. There’s a reason he has as many goals as he does.”
Wondolowski, who had never before come off the bench at Avaya, drew some of the loudest cheers of the day when he entered the game in the 73rd minute.
“It still gives me goosebumps,” Wondolowski said. “It’s amazing to be a part of that. I love these fans, and I think it’s a mutual love and respect and I enjoyed it.”
There was a half chance almost immediately, when Clint Dempsey got free down the left wing, but the ensuing cross rolled just out of Wondolowski’s reach.
After that, there was just the miss, which for some will dredge up memories of a steamy Brazilian night in July 2014.
“You hate losing in any way, shape or form,” Wondolowski said of the All-Star experience. “I don’t like missing chances as well. That leaves a little bit of a sour taste, but it was a lot of fun.”