The first month of the 2012 season could not have gone any better for the Earthquakes — save perhaps a change of fortunes against the Houston Dynamo — and the team sits near the top of the standings in the MLS Western Conference. Leading the charge for San Jose is their talismanic striker Chris Wondolowski, who has tallied six goals in five games to start the season (More than one goal per game!). And while very few would predict that Wondolowski can hold that pace for an entire 34 game season, the retooled offense that the Earthquakes feature gives the two-time team MVP a golden opportunity to vault to the top of the MLS scoring charts for a third straight year.
After recording a strong finish in 2011, and taking into account his goals-per-game average to start 2012, Wondolowski now counts 43 regular season goals for his Earthquakes career. Following his ascension to No. 2 on the all-time San Jose scoring list last October — his tally against Sporting Kansas City moved him past Landon Donovan for that honor — Wondolowski has only Earthquakes Hall of Famer Ronald Cerritos ahead of him. The Salvadoran striker netted 61 times for San Jose over six seasons, and to many longtime supporters remains the best goal scorer ever to grace Earthquakes blue.
However, Wondolowski is quickly — indeed, very quickly — catching up to Cerritos, and he has made it clear that he would be honored to one day replace him at the top of the all-time Earthquakes scoring chart. In fact, if Wondolowski can keep up his current 2012 season scoring rate, he would take over that title sometime this summer!
Okay, perhaps keeping a greater than one-goal-per-game average over a 34-game schedule is unrealistic, but even rational thought leans in that direction when you look at just what the Earthquakes have assembled this year in their quest to return to the postseason following a difficult 2011. The San Jose striker practically drools at the thought of what is to come the rest of this season in terms of creating scoring opportunities.
“Absolutely, the team is doing an amazing job and creating so many chances,” said a beaming Wondolowski when asked what to expect from the Earthquakes’ offense. “We have a lot of ways to break down teams. This year we have guys that can beat the defense off the dribble, we have guys that can that slip guys in, we have guys that get wide and get good service in there. It makes it nice, and it makes my job so easy.”
To hear it from Wondolowski, easy for him means that opposing defenses are in for a challenge when they face the revamped Earthquakes offense. Furthermore, they must now deal with a striker in Wondolowski who, at just 29 years old, is hitting the prime years of his career. Add in his confidence boosting offseason U.S. National Team training camp under the tutelage of head coach Jürgen Klinsmann — a man who knows a thing or two about scoring goals — and the mind wanders thinking about what heights Wondolowski will reach in 2012…
Okay, back to reality. Wondolowski’s blistering start to the current campaign begs the question as to when Cerritos should be at hand to pass the proverbial torch to a new Earthquakes scoring champion. Can the current No. 1 rest easy for 2012 and wait to buy his ticket for a match in the Earthquakes’ new stadium sometime in the next few years? Should Cerritos start scanning discount travel websites for a good deal on an October — or earlier — ticket to Mineta San Jose International Airport? Perhaps the numbers can give a clue as to when to expect that ceremony.
Before joining the San Jose Earthquakes in a trade from the Houston Dynamo in 2009, Wondolowski had scored a grand total of four goals in 39 appearances across five MLS seasons. However, since that fateful trade, the numbers have been staggering:
- 43 goals in 77 regular season appearances since 2009 for a 0.56 goals-per-game average.
- 40 goals in 61 starts since the beginning of 2010 for a 0.66 goals-per-game average.
- 115 shots on goal since 2010 for a scoring conversion rate of 37%
- 14 goals in his last 14 starts for a perfect-and-pleasing 1.00 goals-per-game average.
That last statistic really puts into perspective just how unstoppable Wondolowski has been recently and just how possible it will be for the striker to surpass his team record scoring tally of 18 goals from his 2010 Budweiser Golden Boot season. The all-time MLS leader in goals-per-game is Stern John with 44 goals in 55 appearances for an average just a shade over 0.80. Cerritos netted 61 times in 148 appearances for San Jose, a 0.41 goals-per-game average. Given that most of the appearances from both players came during the goal-happy early years of MLS, Wondolowski’s current scoring rate in comparison becomes that much more impressive.
Can Wondolowski catch Cerritos in 2012 — a feat that would require him to score another 18 goals before the end of the season — or will an inevitable cooling-off delay that accomplishment into 2013? Don’t sell Wondolowski short yet, as just this week he admitted that he still doesn’t feel that has reached his potential thus far in the early season.
“To be truthfully honest, I should have more goals right now,” said an almost apologetic Wondolowski. “I should probably have a couple more from some of the easy chances I haven’t finished. I’ve gotten some to go, but I haven’t been sharp. Hopefully the goals keep coming.”
Look out folks, because if Wondolowski truly hasn’t ascended to the peak of his abilities this season, then topping the MLS goal charts for a third-consecutive year is not out of the question. And for Cerritos, he might need to get some torch-passing practice in for later this season, just in case.