Early in his 14th season in Major League Soccer, Chris Wondolowski no doubt knows the question is coming.
About Landon Donovan. About the record. And about whether he’ll break it.
“I hope so, that would be pretty cool,” Wondolowski said.
Donovan holds the career MLS scoring record with 145 goals. Wondolowski is just 10 goals from matching him. Wondo, as he is known, has already scored a goal this season for the San Jose Earthquakes, the team he’s played for since 2009.
“If we’re successful and get some wins, I’ll be able to get some chances, at least,” he said, referring to the prospects of catching Donovan this season.
Recent history is on Wondolowski’s side. He’s scored 12 or more goals in each of the last eight seasons. He led the Earthquakes last year with 13 goals and eight assists.
Wondolowski and Donovan faced off last weekend in San Jose when Donovan’s new team, Leon, visited the Earthquakes in an exhibition match. Donovan scored the lone goal in the 1-0 victory for the Liga MX team.
There was some history there. Donovan played for the Earthquakes for four seasons, leading the team to MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003. Quakes fans were dismayed when Donovan signed with the rival LA Galaxy and went on to win four more MLS Cup championships with Los Angeles.
Donovan smiled when he was asked about the record. He said the ego part of him doesn’t want his record broken, but his heart wants Wondolowski to break it.
“When you look at Wondo’s career and how he’s done it, it’s incredible. For five or six or seven years he didn’t really play. And then all of the sudden he came on to the scene and he scored 15, 18, 20, 25 goals a year for however many years now,” Donovan said. “He deserves it. It’s going to happen at some point and it’s a credit to how hard he’s worked.”
Donovan, who has retired from MLS twice, signed with Leon in January.
After the friendly, Wondolowski and Donovan exchanged jerseys .
“We definitely enjoy joking around,” Wondolowski said. “He told me to go break it (the record) and get as many as I can, and I told him he should come back and keep playing in MLS, as long as he comes back to the Earthquakes. He’s always been a really kind man and it was nice to see him.”
For now, Wondolowski appears focused on the Earthquakes, not the record.
San Jose went 13-14-7 last season, which appeared turbulent for the club. Coach Dominic Kinnear was dismissed in June and replaced by technical director Chris Leitch. Despite the upheaval, San Jose returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 but fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the knockout round.
The Quakes hired new coach Mikael Stahre in November and opened this season with a 3-2 victory over Minnesota United. They fell 3-2 in the second match against Sporting Kansas City but Wondolowski scored in stoppage time, giving him 135 goals and moving him into sole possession of second place on the career list, 10 back of Donovan.
Wondolowski has played in MLS since 2005, when he was taken by the Earthquakes in the supplemental draft. He moved with the team to Houston in 2006 before getting traded to the new incarnation of the Quakes in 2009.
His best season for MLS came in 2012 when he had 27 goals, a league record that he still shares with two other players.
Wondolowski has played 35 games with the U.S. national team, including two at the 2014 World Cup. He has 11 international goals, but he is perhaps most remembered for the one he missed – a potential game winner against Belgium at the World Cup that went over the crossbar late in regulation.
He was on the roster for the U.S. team that lost to Trinidad and Tobago last fall, which effectively eliminated the Americans from this summer’s World Cup. He called the defeat devastating.
But as an MLS veteran, Wondolowski is excited about the growth he’s seen in the league. Despite his team’s loss to Leon, he sees the league as steadily gaining on Liga MX. Indeed, the progress has had tangible results in the CONCACAF Champions League, where a pair of MLS teams – Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls – advanced to the semifinals with victories over Mexican league opponents.
“I think it’s been amazing, it’s been leaps and bounds. The league itself has grown – you see the talent that’s out there on the field and the product itself,” he said. “And the Earthquakes themselves, how the club has progressed since 2005. It’s cool to see.”