San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski is on the cusp of becoming the most prolific goal scorer in MLS history. Wondo, as fans have dubbed him, currently has 144 career goals and needs only one to tie and two to break Landon Donovan’s record of 145 career MLS goals. Wondo’s record proves that he is a very aggressive player, but even so, he has never gotten a red card in his MLS career. When I interviewed him recently at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California, he told me that he’s always looking to make tackles and to score, but never by playing dirty. “I always want to play the game the right way and play it hard and play it tough, but not play it dirty,” he says. “No throwing elbows, no tackling someone from behind or anything like that.” This says a lot about Wondo as a player and as a person. He has a sunny personality, and exudes positivity.
When I spoke to Wondo, he was practicing for his upcoming game against the Houston Dynamo. It was about 65 degrees outside, and very sunny. The seats at Avaya Stadium are the steepest in the MLS, giving every fan a great view. The stadium offers some cool things for the players, too. As they walk into the stadium through the players’ tunnel, there is a “wall of cleats” where all the players hang their cleats, about two pairs per person. Next to that, a shoe dryer dries ten pairs of shoes at once, so the players are equipped for rainy days.
Soccer has always been Wondo’s dream. As a young man, he hoped he might someday be a teacher and a coach, and that is still his plan. He particularly wants to coach in youth leagues, especially the 14-to-18 age range, when players are ready to listen, able to receive technical instruction, and hungry to play.
Wondo has played soccer since his childhood in Danville, California, and he remembers playing in his backyard with his brothers for hours on end. He is part Native American, and his heritage means a lot to him. Wondo is fascinated by Native American culture and history, and he told me that he feels his heritage and experiences make him who he is. He also said that it has played a key role in his upbringing and in his style of play. He noted that Native Americans honed their endurance through hunting on the plains, and this has been passed down to him.
Wondo is also proud that he has been able to represent the United States on the U.S. National Team. He has played thirty-five games with the National Team, an experience that he describes as “pretty special”. On the National Team, he says, “you’re playing for something. You’re playing for your country. You literally have the flag over your heart.” Once, in a National Team game, the kit man misspelled Wondo’s last name, adding an extra W. He went on to score a hat trick in that game. After that, being superstitious, he asked the kit man to keep including an extra W somewhere on the jersey: “He threw an extra W all over the jersey in hidden places, like inside. But it was always there.”
Wondo has played for the Earthquakes since 2009. Before that, he played for the Houston Dynamo for four seasons. He considers his role models to be Cal Ripken Jr. and Will Clark in baseball, Michael Jordan in basketball, and his father, John. “My dad played soccer at UC Berkeley, and he helped me, was one of my first coaches and still to this day, helps me along my way,” he says.
He also credits his teammates with many of his achievements. He says that his team has made him what he is today and they position him for success: “They're the ones who are serving the ball or being able to get me open in those situations.”
Although many people position the potential record-breaking goal as a strike against Donovan, Wondo views it as an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Donovan, who is one of his heroes. “The coolest thing for me is that I get to be mentioned along with Landon Donovan,” Wondolowski says. “I'm chasing Landon Donovan.”
If all goes well, however, Wondo won’t be chasing Donovan much longer.