DC United v San Jose Earthquakes

How high can San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski climb?

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Let’s play a little game and call it “How High Will Wondo Go?”

San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski is streaking toward something special. He leads all MLS scorers with 11 goals in 10 matches. That leaves 24 contests potentially ahead – and it leaves room aplenty for a season like we haven’t seen in some time.

If you look at the top goal-scoring seasons through 16 previous MLS years (the chart is below) you’ll notice something right away: All the splashy totals were in early MLS days, when rosters weren’t nearly so deep and teams generally were not so savvy or organized.

So a high-quality individual could exploit the collective, defensive frailty to a brutal extent. Let’s use Carlos Ruiz’s 24 goals in 2002 as an example. He was a quality marksman, for sure. But if we’re honest, Major League Soccer in 2002 was a league barely hanging on, with just 10 clubs. The quality in depth just wasn’t there.

The collective team proficiency has risen dramatically in the interim, which is why there’s been just one season of 18-plus goals since 2007.

All the more reason to stand up and applaud Wondolowski’s ongoing campaign.

I’m calling it right here: Barring injury, MLS will have its first 20-goal season since Landon Donovan in 2008. In fact, I could easily see 23 goals (or more) from the Earthquakes’ striker, which would put him in a fifth-place tie for top all-time season, at least.

Here’s why I’m so sure:

  • Wondolowski is playing on a very good team. These Earthquakes have found their footing. The standings say so, and so does the eye test.
  • He has a strike partner in Steven Lenhart who demands attention. I know how a lot of people feel about Lenhart, an agitator extraordinaire. I share some of those feelings. But sentiments about No. 24 don’t matter. We’re talking about No. 8, Wondolowski.
  • The guy is durable. He played 28 league games in 2010, 30 in 2011 and he hasn’t missed a match this year. Ability to dodge injury is a part of all this. After all, a certain Frenchman in New York could still have something to say about the MLS Golden Boot chase by the time it’s over, but he’s falling behind right now due to injury.
  • Wondolowski continues to play with a chip on his shoulder. If he gets called into the national team camp, that will serve to keep his confidence on a high soar. If he doesn’t get the Klinsi call? That’s going to be even worse for the field, because Wondolowski will launch a mad mission to prove, yet again, that he doesn’t get the credit he rightly deserves.

While you come up with your own reasons (or counter arguments, if you’re looking for a fight today) here’s the chart of best goal-scoring seasons so far in Major League Soccer:

Rank  Name                         Goals  Team              Season

1         Roy Lassiter               27        Tampa Bay    1996

2          Mamadou Diallo         26        Tampa Bay    2000

2          Stern John                 26        Columbus     1998

4          Carlos Ruiz                24        LA Galaxy      2002

5          Raul Diaz Arce           23        DC United     1996

5          Taylor Twellman          23        N.England     2002

7          Eduardo Hurtado         21        LA Galaxy      1996

8          Landon Donovan         20        LA Galaxy      2008

8          Luciano Emilio            20        DC United     2007

10        Juan Pablo Angel       19        New York       2007

10        Cobi Jones                 19        LA Galaxy      1998

10        Alex P. Chacon          19        Miami             2001

13        Kenny Cooper            18        FC Dallas      2008

13        Raul Diaz Arce           18        N.England     1998

13        Stern John                 18        Columbus     1999

13        Jason Kreis                18        FC Dallas      1999

13        Roy Lassiter               18        TB/DC            1998

13        Roy Lassiter               18        DC United     1999

13        Preki                          18        Kansas City  1996

13        Ante Razov                  18        Chicago         2000

13        Chris Wondolowski    18        San Jose       2010

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Southampton (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  Manager of West Ham United, Slaven Bilic look on during the  EFL Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Accrington Stanley at the London Stadium on September 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The Hammers are in a bad spot. Five matches into the season, they have just three points – one third their haul at this point last season. They host Southampton at the Olympic Stadium at 11am E.T. live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Southampton isn’t in much better shape. They own just five points thus far and sit in 14th, and manager Claude Puel has slotted  in-form striker Charlie Austin into the starting lineup looking to build on a pair of wins over the last week.

WATCH LIVE: West Ham vs. Southampton live online at NBCSports.com

Austin scored the only goal in Saints’ 1-0 win over Swansea last weekend, their first of the league season, and then scored again in the 2-0 win over Swansea in the EFL Cup midweek. That gives Austin four goals in his last three games following a Europa League brace two weeks ago.

For West Ham, Slaven Bilic has a problem at left-back yet again after Arthur Makuasu, Aaron Cresswell‘s replacement, went down with a knee injury. Newly-arrived Alvaro Arbeloa will move from his usual right side to deputize. Defensive issues have plagued the Hammers thus far, having conceded 11 goals in their last three league games.

LINEUPS

West Ham: Adrian; Nordtveit, Reid, Ogbonna, Arbeloa; Noble; Antonio, Kouyate, Lanzini, Payet; Zaza.
Subs: Randolph, Byram, Oxford, Obiang, Fernandes, Feghouli, Fletcher.

Southampton: Forster; Cedric, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Romeu, Højbjerg; Davis, Tadić, Redmond; Austin.
Subs: McCarthy, Yoshida, Clasie, Long, Martina, Ward-Prowse, Hesketh.

Joe Hart, Torino down Roma 3-1 in early Serie A game

BERGAMO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 11:  Goalkeeper of FC Torino Joe Hart gestures during the Serie a match between Atalanta BC and FC Torino at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on September 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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In today’s early Serie A game, Joe Hart and Torino held down Roma to win 3-1 at Stadio Olimpico to move into the top half of the table.

Roma dominated the stat sheets, holding 69% possession and out-passing Torino 466-174, but were wasteful in front of net, only able to put just five of their 21 their shots on target.

Andrea Belotti scored just eight minutes in to put Torino ahead, and Iago Falque bagged a brace with goals 13 minutes apart in the second half to seal it. For all its possession and movement in the attacking half, Roma could only manage a goal on a penalty, scored by Francesco Totti, his 250th career goal, all coming for one club.

Manchester City loanee Joe Hart commanded a solid performance by Torino’s back line, with the home side managing a whopping 22 tackles and 33 clearances. Roma actually out-performed Torino on the expected goals front, proving Hart’s influence.

The win, the club’s first since late August, pushes Torino up to eight in the Serie A table on eight points. They have conceded just a single goal – the Totti penalty – in their last three matches. It’s a far cry from the 2-1 loss to Atalanta in Hart’s debut, in which a mistake by the England international allowed Atalanta to score the winning goal.

On the other side, Arsenal loanee Wojciech Szczesny made a mistake to gift Torino their early goal. The result for Roma is a big blow to their hopes at challenging for the title, dropping them five points back of leaders Juventus and four behind Napoli.

Championship match features nightmarish halftime shenanigans

DERBY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Nigel Pearson, manager of Derby County looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Blackburn Rovers at iPro Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Derby, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
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On Saturday, Derby County fell at home to Blackburn 2-1, with all three goals scored in a furious four-minute span midway through the second half.

It’s been a nightmare start to the season for both clubs, with the clubs in 20th and 22nd on a combined three wins.

That, however, was not the most disturbing thing on display at Pride Park Stadium. The halftime show featured a show with a character from a child’s bad dream. A man in a fish suit swallowed a person whole then spit him back out sans clothing. But don’t take our word for it:

Have fun sleeping tonight.

After a pair of La Liga draws, all is not well at Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 21: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF grimaces in pain during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Villarreal CF at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on September 21, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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It’s amazing how results go hand-in-hand with off the field mood for the top teams in the world.

There is no club where that seems to be more true than Real Madrid. The team has drawn two in a row, first a 1-1 finish against Villareal at the Bernabeu that saw Los Blancos pump out 23 shots, but put only six on target. Then, they drew 2-2 Saturday with this year’s darlings Las Palmas out on the Canary Islands, crumbling at the back by blowing a pair of leads.

All this still leaves them atop the La Liga table, a point above Barcelona, and yet the wheels appear to be coming loose.

Things always start with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, and that was the case on Saturday, when the superstar was withdrawn by head coach Zinedine Zidane in the 74th minute, and appeared to be visibly upset with the decision. Zidane told media after the game he was looking ahead to Tuesday’s Champions League matchup with Borussia Dortmund, saying, “He [Ronaldo] always wants to play and be out there on the pitch, but I’ve also got to think about the player and he needed to rest and think about Tuesday.”

Ronaldo did not speak to the media following the match.

Always in his teammate’s shadow is Gareth Bale, but things aren’t going well for him either. According to a report by The Sun, Bale has increased security after his fiance’s family has reportedly been targeted for arson attacks by a drug gang. In addition, Bale is reportedly unhappy after being substituted himself in the 70th minute of the draw with Villareal, according to reports in Spain. There have been reports for a while that his agent is shopping the Welshman to top clubs like Manchester United.

“We’re relaxed,” Zidane said after the Las Palmas draw. “We are working hard and focused on what we’re doing. We have to realize that you can’t always win, but we’re on the right track.”