2019 was a once-in-a-lifetime season for Chris Wondolowski – both on a personal and collective level.
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After enduring a 2018 season that took a toll on the San Jose Earthquakes captain “physically” and “mentally,” the 36-year-old etched his name in the history books, becoming the league’s all-time leading goal scorer.
His 15 goals in 32 games played made him the Quakes’ leading goalscorer and tied fifth in the league.
Wondolowski credits coach Matias Almeyda – who described the forward as a true “goalscorer” and a player “who has made history” – and his staff for “reigniting the passion and the love” he feels for the game.
With a memorable season behind him, ProSoccerTalk spoke to “Wondo” to discuss where his future lies, the ebbs and flows at Earthquakes Way over the past two years, the future of the Black-and-Blue and much more in a two-part series.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the San Jose Earthquakes final regular-season game against the Portland Timbers, and was edited for clarity.
ProSoccerTalk: Is Chris Wondolowski returning for a 17th season?
Chris Wondolowski: I hope so. I’m going to re-evaluate, talk with family, talk with the ownership about a contract. But I’ve had so much fun this year. Matias [Almeyda] has helped reignite my love and passion for the game and I would like to do one more year.
Has there been any talks between you and team officials? You haven’t really gotten to the bottom of it?
Yeah, no, we’ve been in talks. We’ve been discussing some things and working out some details. But yeah, I love this organization and I want to represent it. Hopefully, I can get renewed for one more year.
How do you describe this season? Coming into the season, you guys had those first four losses, and at a point in time also, you weren’t racking up any goals. Many were maybe asking if this was the decline of Chris. But then you have that game against the Chicago [Fire], and everything just turns around. How do you describe the season?
Emotionally, it’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster. Maybe a little anxious coming into preseason, not knowing if my energy, you know, could still hang. I was getting off to a rough start. I wasn’t playing really well. I was playing really poorly and the results were showing that as well. But then I finally just got my footing. The coaching staff have just helped me so much. They’ve pushed me at the right times, they’ve motivated me. But they’ve also helped me relax, helped me just play the game and reminded me that it’s a game and to just enjoy that. And I think that was kind of just the turning point this year: being able to enjoy the game and not being able to just press for goals, press for wins. If you go and execute this game plan, things will happen, and they have.
In all fairness, your numbers have been at an elite level for ten years. How long do you think you can play and how long do you think you’ll actually play (two different things)?
My body feels good. This is pretty cool with all the technology and data that you can collect and this is probably the fastest and some of the strongest times I’ve had. This year I’ve taken a lot more interest in my health and going to the gym, whereas in years past I was just winging it. Going back to that, I think I could play for a couple more years. I think I want to play for one more [year].
Does that keep you up at night: that your mind and your body is probably thinking of the future, but in actuality – just the way that the sport works – that the age next to your name might not allow you to continue on?
Yeah, a little bit. It’s just one of those things where that’s what I love about this game – you have so many different aspects. We have 16-year-olds in this locker room, and we’ve played with Nick Romando and Kyle Beckerman, who are 37 and it’s pretty cool to see that they’re still doing great things. You have guys like Zlatan – who’s 37 – and doing amazing things. So, it’s pretty cool to see that whole spectrum of things. But I also think I was really pretty content on it being my last year. I’m pretty much just taking the approach where I’m enjoying every moment – even preseasons and stuff like that I was enjoying it and taking it all in, road trips and things like that. But I always thought that there was just going to be a day where I was going to come in and things weren’t going to be fun, but that’s definitely not the case. I love coming into practice. It’s fun hanging out with these guys, so that’s why I’m probably going to end up putting a cap on it and putting an end date some time.
You mention the word “questioning.” Did you ever question your future prior to this season? Did that thought of leaving it all behind ever come to mind? If so, what was it that changed that idea?
To be quite frank, last year took a lot out of me both emotionally and physically. It was tough. It was a rollercoaster of a year. I was in a bad spot mentally, physically. The locker room was in disarray. I took a lot of self-inventory, and I got on myself for letting the locker room get to where it was. It was just refreshing to have this clean slate. We all came in. We all bought in. Again, I think that’s why it’s such a joy this year. It’s been awesome. It’s been so fun.
How do you describe Matias Almeyda?
[A] great man both on and off the field. I think that he has a lot of the morals and values that I think makes up a great man. I think that’s something that I strive for and to be like. I think that he just lives life the right way.
Do you sense that there’s the next Chris Wondolowski – not in the goal scoring aspect, but with the ‘this is my club’ mentality, ownership, and leadership – in the current locker room or maybe somewhere in the Quakes pipeline?
I think there’s a few guys coming up with that. I see guys from the area who have really taken ownership of the club. I see it in Shea Salinas, but also guys like Tommy Thompson and Nick Lima. I think these guys are really understanding what this club stands for and help moving it in the right direction, because this is a special club – there’s so much history and so many great things that happened. I think that they understand it, and are helping move it in the right direction.
Who did you talk to regarding standing with the Ultras and cheering with them for 90 minutes? Is this something you thought about the day before or a couple days before when you first found out you were going to be suspended. Did you speak to maybe your wife about it, your family? Who was it?
It was just kind of something I’ve always wanted to do.
Yeah. You know, I wanted to be able to yell. I definitely told my wife about it and talked to her about it. She knows how crazy I am, though. But she was all about it. It was just one of those things where I had so much pent up frustration from the red card as well, and it gives me an outlet to yell. I was going to have a lot of nervous energy about that game anyway, so it allowed me to express that.
With the integration of LAFC to the league, it has taken away a lot of the spotlight from the LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes as a rivalry. People who follow this club near and dear will always see the California Clasico as “the” rivalry. With the pending integration of Sacramento Republic to the league, is it possible that San Jose and Sac Republic end up having an organic rivalry? Is that the next big rivalry for San Jose, and is it legitimate?
I think it’s going to be a great rivalry. I think that anytime you’re battling and you have similar territory – especially nowadays with the academies; we’re going to be fighting over those guys and stuff as well. I think that what makes a rivalry is what happens on the field. Fans will always help it and help promote it, but when you’re out there and you’re battling against them, you just develop a dislike for them, a dislike for the club because you want your club to be better. I think that it’s important to have some of these rivalries, and I think the Sacramento one is going to be a great one.
It’s not really talked about, but it’s factual: You are the leading American-born goalscorer in the league this season. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you never announced your retirement from the U.S. men’s National Team. Does it bother you that you’re not even considered, given that fact?
I’d appreciate it, but I would probably turn it down anyways. I am pretty much retired from it. It’s time for the US to move on. There’s so many valuable growth in getting into camps. That’s why I love that Jackson [Yueill] and Nick [Lima] are in these camps. It’s something that you really grow from and learn from. I think you can grow as a player and as a person there. It’s time for Josh Sargent and all these other young guys to really make their mark, and I think they’re doing a good job of it and hopefully they can continue it.