Take nothing from him: Chris Wondolowski earns deserved place in MLS record book

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Show me a record, and I’ll show a mark that deserves an asterisk. There’s always an argument to be made. Eric Dickerson had two more games than O.J. Simpson. Barry Bonds played with juiced baseballs and juice arms. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game was less professional game than exhibition. Even free-falls from the edge of space require perfect weather conditions. Depending on your point to view, any record can be skewed. All it takes is enough cynicism.

But that’s the nature of records. They’re always set under the most advantageous circumstances. To start picking them apart is to deny records themselves. No competitive result takes place in a vacuum, and if it did, we wouldn’t care. The meaning behind the achievement comes when the odds can go for or against you; when you have no control of the context; when you have to wait for circumstances beyond your control to lineup up so perfectly that it creates a once in a lifetime opportunity.

And then you still have to perform.

Other, lesser numbers may be more impressive in context, and still others may have been posted by those with half the talent and twice the luck. But to set a record – to put your name on the top of a list that will be referenced for as long as people play soccer in this country – everything has to come together, just as everything did for Chris Wondolowski, whose 27th goal of the season Saturday night tied him for the all-time single-season record in Major League Soccer.

MORE: Breaking down San Jose’s draw in Portland

You have to be good. You have to be impeccably good. Nobody stumbles into 27 goals. Other players have had more and better chances, but only one put away 27. Even if somebody someday hits 28, they’ll never be able to say Wondolowski didn’t deserve this mark.

You need help. “Wondo” has the league’s best team around him, one that outscored the rest of the league by some distance. He helped get career years out of Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Marvin Chavez and Sam Cronin. Rafael Baca and Simon Dawkins had their best professional seasons.

Wondo didn’t do it alone, and he knows it.

“I appreciate all the teammates that have done so much,” Wondolowski said afterward. “[S]uch hard work … a lot of credit goes to them.”

“I know when I play with him, or when he’s on the field, that he wants to win,” San Jose forward Steven Lenhart said, having played necessary role in Wondolowski’s record-tying effort. “[H]e’s going to give everything he has, so it makes me give everything I have … it’s just a joy to be a part of.”

You need the circumstances to fall in line. Four seasons ago, Wondolowski was playing for one of the best coaches in Major League Soccer, but he just didn’t fit with the team. He scored only four goals in 39 games in for Dominic Kinner in Houston (and San Jose). Traded to the Earthquakes, Wondolowski has slid into a system that fits his skillset. In his four seasons back in the Bay Area, Wondo’s scored 66 goals in 104 games.

MORE: See Wondo’s record-tying goal – VIDEO

And you need luck. Wondolowski’s scored some goals from the spot (four), a few in added time (three goals beyond 90′), and handful while up a man (three). All these circumstances require luck, but it’s the same luck every striker that’s ever played has had on their sides. Wondo made the most of it.

On Saturday, a different kind of luck came into play when San Jose was awarded a controversial penalty. You can thank Steven Lenhart or Mark Geiger for goal 27, or you can credit Wondolowski for being in position to capitalize. Isn’t that what goal scoring’s all about?

It is the nature of records to be set when everything falls in line. If it wasn’t Wondolowski, it would have been somebody else years  from now for whom the stars aligned. Today, 16 years after Roy Lassiter set the mark, Wondo became that somebody else, a somebody who sits unbeaten on Major League Soccer’s single-season goalscoring charts.

“To have my name even mentioned with him, it’s a true honor,” Wondolowski said of Lassiter, the man with whom is is now inextricably linked. “I’m full of glee right now.”

He deserved the moment. Fans were left pondering the simulation that drew the fateful penalty, but their cynicism will fade, as it should. Other players have benefitted from such behavior, only their goals weren’t record-tiers. Just because Wondolowski’s was number 27 doesn’t mean it should overshadow the 26 that came before it.

And it won’t. No Bowie Kuhn is going to put an asterisk on this mark. There is the genuine feeling around the league that Wondolowski’s earned this.

“He’s had a tremendous, tremendous season,” Portland Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson said after the game, choosing to focus on Wondo’s record rather than how it came about. “Take the decision out of it … He’s tied the MLS record, and it’s gone to a very, very good player.”

If everything fell into place – up to and including the final, record-tying goal – it doesn’t make the mark any less valuable. It makes the mark no different than every other record that exists in competitive sports.

On Saturday, Chris Wondolowski took his rightful place along site Roy Lassiter. If there’s one thing that’s become clear over the last the last eight months, it’s that he’s earned the honor.

Highlights from Wondo’s historic night in Portland:

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Wondowlowski, after the match:

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Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.