This winter, the San Jose Earthquakes addressed a whole host of issues that cropped up during the club’s disappointing 2011 campaign. But the Quakes’ universe still revolves around one player: forward Chris Wondolowski, who has ascended from journeyman status (acquired from Houston for Cam Weaver in June 2009) to US international in just two years.
MLSsoccer.com recently spent some time on the phone with Wondolowski and looked ahead at 2012 with the Bay Area native.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve won the Golden Boot in 2010 and have been named to the MLS Best XI two years in a row. What’s next for this year?
Wondolowski: MLS playoffs and MLS Cup. That’s the first and foremost goal, and the only goal that I’m really looking forward to right now.
Wondo, Quakes Looks Forward
MLSsoccer.com: From a personal perspective, is the league MVP on your radar?
Wondolowski: Yeah, I’m going to try to do whatever I can and try to produce as much as I can and, if the numbers are there, that’s definitely a goal. Going into every season, I have very high and lofty goals and I think that’s definitely out there.
MLSsoccer.com: After scoring 34 times in the last two seasons, what’s a realistic goal total for 2012?
Wondolowski: I think right around that 15 range. We brought in some great guys, especially offensively, and I think that’s really going to help produce [goals] and be very dangerous in the attack. I know other guys are going to be scoring a lot, but I think goal totals in general – and general play for us – will improve.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you feel like the Quakes have been too dependent on you in the last couple years?
Wondolowski: No, it’s just one of those things were everyone goes out and tries to do their part, and the style of play we have, we like to get the ball wide and whip crosses in. Those guys were doing their job, and it was my job to try to get on the end of it. I don’t think it was too dependent, I just think it was the style of play that we had.
MLSsoccer.com: Now that you are even more of a known quantity, what kind of changes do you expect to see defenses throwing at you?
Road Trip 1v1: Chris Wondolowski
Wondolowski: I definitely think they’ll be paying attention, but I think that’s a good thing for our team. If they’re really keying in on me, that’ll open up so many other holes in their defense. If they’re trying to get tight on me, then that leaves room for Steven Lenhart to make runs, Marvin Chávez and Shea Salinas, you name it. It’ll open up space.
MLSsoccer.com: With the changes made over the winter, how much better, offensively speaking, are this year’s Earthquakes vs. last year’s?
Wondolowski: I think a lot. I think we’re still gelling as a group, and it might take a little bit of time, but I really believe we are a lot better. It’s one of those things where everyone wants the ball, everyone feels comfortable on the ball, and there’s no real worries about it.
MLSsoccer.com: The talents of guys such as Chávez and Tressor Moreno, how will they help you specifically? How does playing off of them differ from past years?
Wondolowski: Those two guys are pretty different players, but I believe they can help me a lot. Marvin is a great guy on the flanks. He’s quick, serves in a great ball and will take on defenders. Tressor just has great vision in that midfield. I just have to make smart runs and try to get open; he can put it pretty much anywhere he wants to, so that makes it really nice.
MLSsoccer.com: Is this team stronger for having lived through that franchise-record 13-match winless streak last year?
GOAL: Wondo hits No. 12
Wondolowski: Yeah. If you look at the team, there’s a lot of different guys. I really don’t think we’re using that as motivation this year. But I think it does make us stronger. We know what it takes to go in there and battle, day in and day out.
That’s all we can do. It’s a new season, and just like last season, we didn’t look back to 2010 [when the Quakes made the Eastern Conference Championship]. We just kept looking ahead and trying to do better.
MLSsoccer.com: Bob Bradley brought you into the US national team fold. What aspects of your game do you feel like you were able to show Jurgen Klinsmann in camp this January?
Wondolowski: I think my work ethic. He appreciates that. And I just try to understand the game – my movement both on and off the ball, I think he took note of. Those are two things that can help me.
MLSsoccer.com: What kind of things did Klinsmann tell you to work on to make yourself a more likely pick for World Cup qualifying matches?
Wondolowski: He just kept pressing how important it is to take care of yourself both on and off the field. Every day is game day, whether you’re playing or preparing for it. In practice, you have to take it seriously and do whatever you can to try to better yourself. That’s the biggest thing I took from there.
MLSsoccer.com: This is the second consecutive offseason in which you’ve signed a new contract with the Quakes, but you’re not a Designated Player. Do you feel like you should be a DP?
Wondolowski: No. I kind of like where I’m at. I’m alright. It’s just one of those things where they’ve brought in a lot of good guys and we don’t think that we need a designated player or a guy making a certain amount. Everyone just tries to do their part, and I feel that’s my job as well.
MLSsoccer.com: You’re obviously the face of the franchise. How much do the off-field demands of that title – the public appearances and the media requests – weigh you down?
Wondolowski: The good news is with our jobs we do have a lot of down time, so that makes it alright. I wouldn’t say it weighs me down. Definitely, the demand has gone up, and there’s been quite a few extra appearances, but that stuff hasn’t weighed me down.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com