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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Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.