The San Jose Earthquakes have locked up their star after winning the franchise’s second Supporters’ Shield.
Real Salt Lake is preaching patience as it begins the new season with plenty of road games after losing some familiar faces.
Reigning league MVP Chris Wondolowski and the Earthquakes dominated Real Salt Lake in three 2012 matchups heading into Sunday night’s opener at Buck Shaw Stadium.
San Jose (19-6-9) finished with a league-high 66 points last year to earn its first Supporters’ Shield since 2005. The Earthquakes were led by Wondolowski, who scored 27 goals to tie the league record set by Tampa Bay’s Roy Lassiter in 1996.
Wondolowski was re-signed Tuesday, becoming the second San Jose player to take a designated player spot. He’s the first player to lead MLS in goals for three straight years.
“As my hometown team, I couldn’t be more excited to sign a designated player contract with the Earthquakes,” Wondolowski told the team’s official website. “These last few years have been amazing and I look forward to continuing my career in San Jose.”
San Jose’s season ended on a bitter note after falling 3-2 on aggregate to eventual MLS Cup champion Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals. The Earthquakes, though, are now among the league’s elite after finishing in sixth place or worse in each of their previous four seasons.
“It’s obviously a quality, quality team, the Supporters’ Shield winner for a reason,” Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. “They were really strong last year and a very, very good home team and a team that never said die.”
Kreis has a major rebuilding effort on his hands after his team finished nine points behind San Jose for second place in the West before being eliminated 1-0 on aggregate by Seattle in the conference semifinals.
Salt Lake (17-11-6) has parted ways with mainstays Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave and Will Johnson. Regular starters Javier Morales, Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert are all injured to begin 2013 for RSL, which plays five of its first seven matches away from Utah.
“I think the word that needs to be said over and over again will be patience,” Kreis said. “This will be a different looking Real Salt Lake team. I do not believe we are going to come out of the chutes and put ourselves in first place after the first five or six weeks like we have done in the past two seasons.”
RSL will look for stability from captain Kyle Beckerman, who will become the 20th player in MLS history to make 300 regular-season appearances Sunday. Alvaro Saborio should continue to be a major threat after finishing fourth in MLS with 17 goals in 2012.
San Jose outscored RSL 10-2 in winning all three meetings last season, with Wondolowski providing half of its goals. RSL finished one contest with nine players and another with 10.
“I think the key for us for this match will be can we keep 11 players on the field to start with, because last year we couldn’t manage to do that at their place,” Kreis said. “If we can start there, that will be a decided improvement automatically.”
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