Wondo: Bay Area's Designated Player
A year before christening a new stadium, the Earthquakes cemented their relationship with franchise player Chris Wondolowski.
The Earthquakes announced on March 5 they've signed Wondo, the popular Danville native and scoring sensation, to a new contract. Per league and team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Once a developmental player, the 30-year-old Wondo is now a “Designated Player,” as well as a poster boy for the MLS opportunity for homegrown talent.
General manager John Doyle offers a knowing grin when pondering Doyle’s storybook rise.
“I always say to him, ‘There definitely should be a statue of you outside the new stadium,’ because he’s a local kid,” Doyle said recently. “He didn’t come from a big-time youth national team, or national team stuff, and then all of the sudden he’s worked his way kind of from the bottom, all the way to the top. He’s the reigning MVP of the league, in a league where we spend millions of dollars trying to bring in players.
“We have a local kid from Danville that was the best kid in the league last year. It’s incredible.”
To Wondo, the new deal was more about a feeling than anything.
“To be honest, over the money and over the DP, I’m excited that the team wants me here because I want to be here,” said Wondo, the reigning Volkswagen MLS Most Valuable Player after tying the league record for goals in a season with 27 in 2012. “They’re rewarded me for the years, and I’m hoping to repay them by having a couple more good years. I think that’s the message that the ownership and John (Doyle) and Frank (Yallop) have really portrayed to me, and I’ve portrayed to them.”
Wondo, who represented himself during contract negotiations, has led the league in goals for three consecutive years, while earning MLS Best XI honors three times. He had 11 game-winning goals last season.
He said he doesn’t feel any added pressure to measure up to the money.
“I feel that I always put pressure on myself,” Wondo said. “To be honest, it’s kind of playing with house money because I’ve been in the situation. The real pressure is on the guy that doesn’t play on a regular basis and gets his one opportunity: ‘Here’s your chance, go get ‘em.’ That’s where the real pressure is. I’m very confident in my ability and especially in the team’s ability. We are hitting are stride in being where we want to be going into the season. No, I really don’t feel much pressure.”
Wondo starred at De La Salle High School-Concord and Chico State before forging his way through the professional ranks. In 2009, the Earthquakes landed Wondo, who grew up an Earthquakes’ fan, and a second-round draft pick (they would use to select Steven Beitashour) in a steal of a deal with Houston.
Wondo’s unselfish, yet dynamic, playing style has blended beautifully with coach Yallop’s quick counterattacking offense. He scores from a myriad of ways, and worked well with target men Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart last season. Lenhart (knee) and Gordon (foot) sat out the Quakes’ season-opening 2-0 loss against Real Salt Lake on March 3 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Wondo led the Earthquakes to the 2010 playoffs with 18 goals while delighting purists with his hustling defense in his own third of the field. He added 16 goals in 2011 before lighting up the league in 2012, tacking on a career-best seven assists.
He has scored an astonishing 61 of his 68 career goals over the past three seasons. Of all his memorable moments in 2012, Wondo cherishes his winning goal, on a cheeky heel flick, in a spellbinding 4-3 victory over the LA Galaxy on June 30 in front of a capacity crowd of 50,391 at Stanford Stadium. He celebrated his goal by high-fiving with members of the military on Military Appreciation Night.
The Earthquakes and Galaxy will meet on June 29 this season at Stanford Stadium again.
Now, Wondo and his admirers all get to hang out together for the long haul.
“I attribute a lot of my success to that,” Wondo said of the local support. “I get to be around friends, family, mentors that have helped me. They get a seat in the stands. To see them on a daily or weekly basis is always fun and exciting. I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Moreover, the two-time MLS All-Star has pronounced himself fit after spending much of January sharpening his skills training with the U.S. National Team.
Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin believes that fans appreciate Wondo’s work rate and his devotion to all aspects of the organization.
“More so than just goals, just everything else he does,” Cronin said. “A lot of times fans associate forwards and goal scorers as pretty boys who get all the attention and don’t necessarily work as hard, but that’s not the case with him and with the other forwards too.
“With Wondo, he’s an all-around good player. He gives everything to the team in every aspect of the game. He’s a fierce competitor, probably one of the biggest competitors on our team. He wants to win in everything he does. He’s hungry to score goals and help the team.”