Summer is often the time for big box office movies and more recently for the superhero flick. Although many of these movies are often very good they are often formulaic. There is an origin story for a hero, some level of contention, and then ultimately a big payoff. Very often this type of storyline never plays out in real life. But in San Jose it appears to be true with Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Take Sunday for example. After struggling to contain Sporting Kansas City for close to an hour it appeared that the Quakes might just drop three points at Avaya Stadium. But much like in a superhero movie the Quakes saved their big moment for the end.
Although how the Quakes got to that point might not have been the most savory the 18,000 strong at Avaya Stadium did not care. The Quakes got the win against Sporting KC and it was Wondolowski who provided the lift.
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What makes Wondolowski such an intriguing player? As a player there is not that much that is particularly remarkable. There have been countless players who have played in Major League Soccer throughout its history who were stronger, faster, more physically impressive. Although he is 6’0″ he is just 165 pounds, not exactly built like a bruising forward.
Yet here we are after eleven professional seasons in MLS with one of the league’s greatest goalscorers. With his goal on Sunday Wondolowski added to his 116 goals. He is just seventeen goals shy of Jaime Moreno for fourth all-time in MLS history. Although 133 goals would be nice the bigger goal at least on an individual level is 144. That is the number of goals that Landon Donovan has.
Perhaps what makes Wondolowski such a breathe of fresh air is that the goal-scoring record really does not seem to matter to him. Strikers are often some of the more arrogant individuals on a football pitch a symptom of being the focal point of the match.
But Wondolowski seems to be of a different breed. After tying Ante Razov’s record with 114 goals earlier in the season Wondolowski told MLS Soccer.com’s Geoff Leopper:
"Ante Razov, one of the greatest. I remember watching him. Just a deadly finisher. That’s pretty amazing, a bit surreal right now. It’s one of those things I think is going to sink in later."
There is also the matter of his level of confidence. Although strikers can often be arrogant and vain, their confidence can also be shattered rather quickly. Everyone remembers where they were when they saw Roberto Baggio duff his penalty kick and end Italy’s chance at World Cup 1994. Football is lined with story like these and Wondolowski is no different.
USA- Belgium World Cup 2014 and Wondolowski’s miss is a moment that is etched in pretty much every supporter’s mind. It is a moment where every U.S. Soccer supporter went from jubilation to sadness. Although there were certainly many reasons why the United States lost that match (terrible defending, no plan of attack, Belgium was actually the better side) Wondolowski was the one who was blamed for the loss.
Some people would let that moment define their career. But that does not appear to be the case with Wondo. Perhaps it is because he did not grow up in the U.S. Soccer football factory or that he went to Chico State University with a student population of just about 15,000. Or it could be that he actually toiled a bit in MLS having a cup of coffee with the Quakes in 2005 before relocating with the Quakes to Houston in 2006. Wondolowski was not exactly a prodigious goalscorer in his early career; he scored just nine goals in his first 53 appearances.
But it is that determinism, that sense of resolve, that seems to have echoed from Wondolowski to the rest of the Earthquakes. After opening their new stadium last year, there were many questions about Wondolowski and the Quakes entering into this 2016 campaign. With the luster of the new stadium gone fresh questions about where this team was going and whether Wondolowski and coach Dominic Kinnear could deliver the goods.
So far, so good. Wondolowski is 33 years old but leads the league with 7 goals one ahead of the reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco and MLS Cup winner Fanendo Adi. The Quakes have also found themselves in the thick of the Major League Soccer leaderboard. Despite having a much smaller budget than some of their rivals the club are in fifth place in the Western Conference standings (4-2-2, 14 points).
While the emergence of David Bingham in goal and Fatai Alashe in the midfield has certainly sparked the club it is the partnership that Wondolowski has developed up top with Quincy Amarikwa that makes this team special. Amarikwa, who spent the better part of his seven plus MLS seasons as a backup, has emerged as a fantastic second piece in Kinnear’s attack. By providing some change of pace and dangerous left foot, Amarikwa has alleviated some of the pressure off of Wondolowski and given him better opportunities at goal.
The question is now: can Wondolowski and the Quakes keep this up? Much of their success or lack thereof will depend upon their road form. Although the Quakes have been spectacular at home (4-0-1, 13 points +5 Goal Differential) on the road their form has been less than desirable (0-2-1, 1 point -4 Goal Differential). The club will have a chance to turn their road form around on Saturday when they take on another comeback kid in the Philadelphia Union.
While the Earthquakes have improved dramatically this season and their roster is strengthened, much of their success will depend upon whether Wondolowski can lift them up once again.