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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Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday