Growing up in Virginia, Clarence Goodson saw plenty of D.C. United star Jaime Moreno. He went head-to-head with Jeff Cunningham on numerous occasions. He spent years toiling alongside Landon Donovan for the US national team.
So the San Jose Earthquakes defender is perhaps uniquely qualified to offer some observations on what differentiates teammate Chris Wondolowski from the only three players ahead of the Quakes’ captain on MLS all-time scoring list.
“Chris is a pure finisher,” Goodson told MLSsoccer.com this week. “Landon was kind of an up-and-down player, could beat people off the dribble a little bit more than Chris, and scored some of his goals from outside the box. Same with Moreno. Moreno, when you lined up one-on-one with him, he was very dangerous, a difficult guy to stop. Scored more goals in that way – same with Cunningham. Cunningham was lightning fast and could just run around you. Chris isn’t that player.”
Nevertheless, by passing Ante Razov last week with a tally from the penalty spot in San Jose’s 3-1 loss to Portland, Wondolowski moved into fourth place on the leaderboard on 115 goals. With six goals in San Jose’s first seven matches, the 33-year-old has brought up the notion that he could not only threaten his own jointly held single-season scoring mark of 27 but also might pass Moreno (133) and Cunningham (134) before the end of 2016 – an outcome that would leave standing only Donovan’s record of 144.
“I still don’t think people give him the credit that he deserves,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said. “I don’t know why – maybe just the way he approaches the game and hasn’t made a big splash internationally, kind of came out of nowhere. I couldn’t tell you. Honestly, I really think he’s underrated.”
It could simply be a byproduct of the manner in which Wondolowski often scores: popping up unmarked after stealing away from a defender, then using a single touch to redirect a teammate’s pass.
“I think I do a lot of stuff off the ball,” Wondolowski said. “That’s where I create, and it’s definitely a lot different than guys like Landon and Moreno and Jeff. But I think everyone has their own style.”
Wondolowski also needs to be in the penalty area to thrive; of the league-best 108 regular-season goals he’s scored since 2010, only four have come from outside the box. After spending a good chunk of 2015 playing slightly deeper, Wondolowski and Quincy Amarikwa have forged a partnership atop a classic 4-4-2 formation this year.
“It speaks to him putting himself in the right position, knowing where the ball is going to bounce and always being in there to clean things up,” Goodson said. “He’s in the right place at the right time. He’s where he needs to be. I think that’s really the one big difference between him and the rest.”
It’s a difference that gets thrown into sharper relief even as the gap between Wondolowski and the top trio narrows on a seemingly weekly basis. And that’s one reason why Kinnear thinks Donovan’s record is in peril.
“I’ve been wrong many times with Chris,” Kinnear said. “This time I hope I’m right, because I think he will catch them.”