Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
CARSON, Calif. — Thursday’s revelation that Chris Wondolowski had claimed league MVP honors came with an anticlimactic sense of inevitability, which was ironic, really, considering the striker’s rise to the MLS elite was anything but certain.
In his first five seasons, the supplemental draft pick out of Chico State bagged just seven goals in 53 games, spending much of his time plodding away in reserve games. While his passion for the sport never wavered, out of practicality he began contemplating careers beyond the beautiful game.
But over the past three years with the San Jose Earthquakes, Wondolowski has developed into the league’s most lethal poacher, with 18 goals in 2010, 16 a year later and, of course, a record-tying 27 tallies in 2012.
“It just gives a different outlook, for me personally, on how the team comes about,” Wondolowski said of those years biding his time. “Obviously, being the low man on the totem pole, you see what it takes, you see how everyone interacts. Being able to work your way up a little bit, you see how each part can affect a team.”
In a ceremony at the Home Depot Center ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup, Wondolowski accepted the MVP trophy he claimed in a landslide win over New York forward Thierry Henry and Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi.
Being his usual personable self, Wondolowski promptly turned praise to a San Jose supporting cast that helped the club top MLS with an astounding 72 goals in 34 regular-season games.
Considering Wondolowski’s humble roots, no one would have blamed him if he soaked in the praise brought on by the individual accolade. But that’s just not in the 29-year-old’s nature.
“There’s not many more-than-one-touch goals,” Wondolowski said after watching a highlight reel. “That shows you what great teammates I have, and what great passers they are. I’m not beating 10 guys, I’m not going to shoot it upper 90.
“But 6 yards and in,” he added with a grin, “I can get that.”
How Wondolowski has honed his prowess in front of goal is no secret. His marathon finishing sessions to end training, after all, have a reputation of their own.
Now that he has a couple of Golden Boots to his name, people have taken notice of his work ethic. But as he pointed out, he’s always put in the time, even when he was a bench-warmer for Houston, going through exercises with then-Dynamo assistant John Spencer.
“There’s no fluke that he’s become a terrific finisher, that his awareness and his confidence is great, because he practices so much to be in his spots,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “It all seems calm. I’m watching the goals saying, ‘That seems easy.’ He doesn’t miss many chances.”
When examining Wondolowski’s prolific track record, it’s easy to wonder why he only has eight U.S. national team caps under his belt. In Yallop’s opinion, Wondolowski isn’t necessarily the target forward U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann may be looking for, explaining, ”He can’t be the point guy. He’s got to be drifting around, finding spaces, and he will score goals.”
As it stands, stability in the national team picture remains one elusive goal for a player whose accomplishments increasingly grant him credence as one of the most dangerous attackers his country’s domestic league has ever seen.
“I know I still have a lot of work I need to continue to get better at” to succeed in international play, Wondolowski said. “It’s out there. You know it’s obtainable.”