PORTLAND — With nothing to play for but pride, the Portland Timbers at least have a real challenge to focus on when they close out their second Major League Soccer season on Saturday by hosting the San Jose Earthquakes.
That focal point is preventing Chris Wondolowski from setting a record for goals in one MLS season.
The Earthquakes' forward has scored 26 times this season — including two second-half goals off the bench on Sept. 22 as the Quakes rallied to tie the Timbers in San Jose. Wondolowski enters Saturday's match at Jeld-Wen Field one goal behind Roy Lassiter's league record of 27 set in 1996 for Tampa Bay.
Brent Richards, the rookie from Camas who has not yet scored an MLS goal, marvels at the production of the Quakes' striker, who has 61 goals over the last three seasons.
"He's somebody that any goal scorer will look up to," Richards said. "He gets himself in the right positions and he puts the ball on target, and that's how he scores goals. He knows where to be and when to be there."
Wondolowski, 29, today is where the 22-year-old Richards aspires to be — a top professional goal scorer. Richards has played in five matches this season — starting twice — but has played only one minute in the last 11 matches. Wondolowski once was stuck playing reserve matches with the Houston Dynamo, and thus is a role model for young forwards in MLS.
"He's a different kind of forward than I am," Richards said. "I've got to look at him and see if I can pick up the good things that he does and add those to my game.
"I rely more on my athleticism, but he's what you would consider a forward who makes really educated runs," Richards said. "He's a smart forward. He's not relying on his athleticism quite as much to get all his goals."
With the consistent play of Bright Dike, it became more difficult for Richards to work his way back into the lineup. The fact that Danny Mwanga has scored three goals against San Jose this season might mean Richards is watching today as his first professional season wraps up.
Even so, Richards could smile about the final week of his first MLS season. Last Sunday, he was on the bench to celebrate the 1-0 win in Vancouver that earned the Timbers the Cascadia Cup. And he said he did well in the fitness testing Timbers players were put through on Wednesday and Thursday.
"I think I actually did a little bit better on this one, which is surprising to me because I just feel exhausted at the end of the season," Richards said. "It was good to get some good results."
That's a statement Richards and his teammates hope they can repeat at the end of their season's final game.