One of Chris Wondolowski’s most endearing qualities is his humility.
It's allowed him to connect with so much more than simply the target with shots on goal.
He's bonded with teammates, from MLS All-Stars to the last man on the bench; savvy coaches; discerning fans; team administrators; youth players, and anyone else who has crossed his path.
Everybody loves a humble superstar.
“The big thing for me is, Wondo, from day one, when he first came to the team and he wasn’t even playing regularly, until now, he hasn’t changed one bit,” coach Mark Watson says of the East Bay native. “He’s still the same guy. He’s still very humble. I think that’s a true credit to his character.”
Watson marvels at how Wondolowski, who will turn 31 on Jan. 28, maintains a blue-collar approach even as the accolades stack up for the 2012 Volkswagon MLS MVP, who had 11 goals and three assists last season.
Wondolowski's teammates feel the same way about him.
Defender Jason Hernandez has had a unique perspective of Wondolowski, having roomed with him on the road for the last three seasons. Both Hernandez and Wondolowski were supplemental draft picks in 2005 as relative unknowns. They squared off in a couple of reserve games as well. Now they’re the best of friends.
“I got to see him transform from a guy who was fighting for time and wasn’t a consistent starter in the league to really seizing an opportunity and kind of just taking off,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s been really fun to watch him grow and learn and excel, week in and week out. For me, it has a lot to do with his personality, being a very, very competitive guy in training; being a guy who takes his craft very seriously, and spends a lot of time after training working on what he does. He’s a perfectionist, and I think those qualities, mixed with seizing the opportunity he was given, turned out to be one of the greater stories MLS will ever see. I don’t think they’ll ever see a guy sign a development contract and then become a DP (Designated Player) for another team, ever.”
“He’s very down to earth,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch says. “This is blue collar, hard-working team. Wondo fits right into that mentality. He’s a hard-working, blue-collar boy. That’s never going to change, no matter his success on the field.”
Though his scoring was a bit down in 2013 after three spectacular seasons, Wondolowski had eight game-winners and become the 11th player in MLS history to reach double-digit-scoring for four consecutive seasons. He also made his 100th career start with the club, and scored the winner against CD Heredia-Guatemala in Champions league play to send the Earthquakes to the quarterfinals.
During a breakout run from 2010-12, Wondolowski had 61 goals combined, and woke up the soccer world to his brilliance as a versatile player and an ambassador for the sport. He has also vaulted onto the international stage, amassing five goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, sharing the Golden Boot award with Landon Donovan and Panamian Gabriel Torres. He had a hat trick against Belize and two goals against Cuba in group stage matches.
Currently, Wondolowski is with the U.S. National Team on a World Cup dry run in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He scored in Team USA’s 2-1 loss against Sao Paolo in a closed-door scrimmage on Jan. 17.
“It’s been great,” he said of the experience. “You hear a little bit of stories about security, but to be honest it’s been amazing. The people, since we’ve been here, have been very warm and cordial – very open to us, especially the staff at the hotel.”
Through all the back-and-forth from MLS to international duties, Wondolowski has comported himself like a willing soccer student who draws as much joy from the fans as they extract from him. When the games begin, the student becomes the teacher.
His success stems from dedication in practice and drive. He has a knack for finding seams in opposing defenses, freeing himself from his markers and punishing mistakes.
“The one thing that has remained a constant is his work ethic and his competitiveness,” Watson says. “He comes in every day ready to work and compete and win, and that, to me, explains the success he’d had.”
Watson said being humble and putting the Earthquakes' family first is a team trademark.
“It’s really important to us. We don’t always have the big-name guys here, where other teams are spending big money," Watson says. "We don’t do that. We want good quality players, which we have, but we want good characters. That can take a group to the next level, if everyone’s on the same page. We’ve got a real good locker room, and it’s a big part of any success that we’ll have.”
Few could have predicted Wondolowski's rise to stardom early in his pro career. The dead-eye finisher who matched Roy Lassister's single-season scoring record with 27 goals in 2012 played for Division II Chico State after starring at De La Salle High in Concord.
He was the Earthquakes' fourth-round selection in the 2005 Supplemental Draft, and left with the team to Houston at the end of that season. He rejoined the Quakes in 2009 via a trade with Houston, in which San Jose dealt Cam Weaver and a second-round pick in 2010.
Consider the deal the Soccer Steal of the Century.
Scoring aside, people root a little harder for guys like Wondo because he roots for them, in actions and good deeds.
“That’s the great thing about Wondo,” Busch says. “He’s just one of the boys. He’s one of the fans. I think any player that’s like that is easily accepted by the fans, and it makes the fans feel like the player’s part of them, and vice versa. It’s kind of one family. That’s a huge part of this club.”
- Richter Media