Rookie coach Mike Petke knows all about the goal-scoring wonders of the Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski.
He's just not sure how the New York Red Bulls can stop Major League Soccer's reigning MVP when they play San Jose on Sunday night at Buck Shaw Stadium.
"Chris is an enigma," Petke said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
For the past two years Petke has given defenders the same instructions on marking Wondolowski as a Red Bulls assistant coach.
"You cannot take your eye off him, not even for a second," the former MLS defensive star said. "How do you prepare someone for that specific challenge? You just keep drilling it in his head."
Wondolowski, who recently became San Jose's second-ever designated player after renegotiating his contract, has scored 61 goals from 2010-12.
Although he was shutout in the opener against Real Salt Lake the Danville native sidestepped defenders for numerous chances. San Jose ultimately lost 2-0 on Sunday night.
"Honestly, I felt we had a chance to put this game away in the first half," Wondolowski said after the game. "We didn't capitalize on our chances, and I had trouble putting the ball on frame."
Petke loves watching the man who netted a record-tying 27 goals last season when not preparing a game plan to stop Wondolowski.
"It is amazing how lethal he is," Petke marveled. "You would think teams would bear hug him the entire game. But you see him just sneak away from his defender. He has a gift."
In what has been billed as an early season showdown between elite teams from opposite coasts New York has a decided advantage with such international stars as Thierry Henry and Juninho gracing the roster.
New York returns to the West Coast after surviving a 3-3 draw in the season opener last week. San Jose comes limping into the nationally televised match with five regulars on the injury list.
Petke, 37, is bracing for the worst.
"I don't look at that first result and take a sigh and sit back and relax in the least bit," he said.
And it's not just because of Wondolowski, 30.
"I know all about how San Jose is this does not even come close to affect anything," Petke said of the defeat to Salt Lake. "They are and continue to be one of the best teams in history of the league. They are very organized, first and foremost, very structured, tough to breakdown. They have guys on team who can make a difference."
So does New York beyond France's Henry and Brazil's Juninho. The Red Bulls have Australian star Tim Cahill, who played at Everton in the English Premier League. They also feature Fabian Espindola, an Argentine forward who was groomed by famed club Boca Juniors.
Petke sounded confident in his ability to manage such talent.
"I've gotten my masters, Ph.D., whatever, over last three years," he said of learning to coach in Major League Soccer.
"The one thing about the stars we have they are extremely competitive and want to succeed. They make it that much easier for me. One thing they understand, especially Thierry, talent is only part of the equation in a system like MLS."
Petke said one of the most difficult adjustments for foreign players is the league's parity.
"It's not about managing them, because there is no issue there," the coach said. "It's about how quickly they understand the league and are willing to play in what the league is set up to be."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.