Chris Wondolowski’s league-record 159 goals are telling of his dominance. They’re also telling of the 36-year-old’s longevity in a constantly evolving league.
[ PART 1: Wondo on San Jose, USMNT ]
A professional career that started in 2005, will come to an end in 2020, as “Wondo” signed a final one-year contract with the Black-and-Blue.
Throughout the 14-year spell, the league legend has seen it all: from the league paying rookies $12,500 a year, to signing global superstars to monstrous contracts; from a just-surviving 12-team league, to a 24-team league exploring the possibilities of merging with Liga MX.
[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]
In part two of a two-part Q&A, ProSoccerTalk spoke to Wondo to discuss the how he’s preparing for the upcoming CBA negotiations, what he believes MLS players need in the new deal, a potential MLS-Liga MX merger, and much more.
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: Earlier this season, Luis Robles from New York Red Bulls talked about possibly housing teammates at his house, depending on what happens with the CBA negotiations. How are you preparing, and how are you preparing other teammates to take on this possible period of no work?
Chris Wondolowski: Yeah, I think one just to educate them on all of the details on it, just to make sure that they know what’s going on, but also to plan for it. You always have to be prepared. Whether it’s financially or where you’re going to live or what you’re going to do. You always have to have a plan, so I think that’s the biggest thing. For the last year or two, we’ve been talking to them. You have to save some money – have a little nest egg. So if things don’t go well in the talks, then you’ll still be prepared, still be ready. I’ll definitely do the same as Luis, if the guys need housing or if they need anything, because I’m staying here no matter what. So they’re more than welcome, and I think that’s important for them to understand the whole situation.
Obviously, the situation is worse given the fact that we’re in San Jose, in the Silicon Valley, right? One of the most expensive regions in the world.
Yeah, and that kind of puts some of the guys behind the eight ball. It’s tough especially if you don’t have income coming in. There’s guys who already have 3-4 roommates and, you know, could be sharing rooms just to get by on a normal rent, a normal apartment. So it’s already tough enough as it is and it doesn’t make things easy, but that’s why you have to plan for it and you can’t just react.
From your perspective, what do players need from these CBA negotiations?
I think that the crucial thing is to keep moving the needle so that the players keep progressing and keep taking this league to the next level. And I think what’s important is what play is out there on the field, and so I think that if the player’s rights and the player’s abilities are what’s top priority, then I think that helps the league. I think that these are some of the things that we are really pushing for and that we really want. In years past, it’s been more financial, whether it’s salary cap or minimum coming in or even DP spots. That’s kind of been in the past, whereas this year it’s been more about player’s rights or how things are going in that sense and not necessarily actual numbers this year.
So, how does a player consider it a win? What does a player need exactly? Is it charter flights? Is it eliminating TAM? Maybe it’s not increasing the salary, or maybe it is?
For it to be a win, I don’t think that there’s going to be just one tangible thing where we got this or we didn’t get this so it’s a loss. Again, it’s just moving the needle more for the player and getting more of their rights across the board. It’s many of these things and you mentioned a few of them, whether it is TAM or if it is the salary cap, things of that nature. I think that definitely does help the players, but there are more across the board that the need to progress in.
I mention charter flights because it’s been a topic of conversation all season long. Has there been an instance that you can think back to where you were like, ‘wow this was a logistical nightmare?’
Oh, yeah. We have a few, especially when you’re on the road when we’re going from Salt Lake to New York City, and we’re flying back from the game and we’re in the airport. I remember two years ago we were going to DC, and I think we were at the airport for 8 hours. Flight got delayed and then the flight got cancelled. It was just an absolute logistical nightmare. We were pretty lucky this year with delays and things of that nature. But I know Montreal had a nightmare. I think New England as well, where they’re arriving to the game and it’s tough.
Do you think that charter flights will patch up – not resolve but patch up – the logistical problems in MLS?
I mean, yes. The travel is a big aspect, especially being a West Coast team travelling to the East Coast. That’s a six hour flight, and you’re losing three hours as well. It’s a whole day that’s gone that could help. Let alone you have to get there two hours before your flight and you have to wait for your bags, and so you’re adding another four hours or so – not including the flight or the time change. That could definitely help. Is it financially feasible? That’s a tough one. That’s a tough battle, so I think that I don’t expect every leg to be chartered, but I do hope that there is more and that the owners have to use them. We could’ve use charter flights this year and we’ve used zero, so that’s also something that’s in need. I know there’s other teams that have used all of their legs and wished they could have used more, so you have to find that balance as well.
Earlier this season, Wayne Rooney said that the MLS player was underpaid. From your perspective, does that stand true?
Yeah, absolutely. I do. You can just look across the board. Again, I think that we do well for ourselves. I think that it’s amazing how well it’s moved. But I think for this league there’s too much of the haves and have nots. We have 28 guys, and I’d say probably only six of the guys do well. And then there’s 22 other guys who have to get another job. As you mentioned, we live in the Silicon Valley, so they have to do something else to supplement themselves so that they can stay afloat. Starting in this league, it’s moved an amazing amount, but I still think that there’s more to move.
How did you financially keep yourself afloat when you were playing in Houston and were making less than $20,000 a year?
My rookie year, I was making $12,500. I had 3 roommates. But I coached more and I was spending more time on the field coaching than I was at practice. That’s never good. Every day I was out coaching. I coached five days a week. Again, I think it helped mold me, but at the same time, I don’t wish it upon a professional athlete to do that.
More and more international players are coming into the league, meaning that the chances of the American player stagnating only increase. There’s fears that the U.S. player might stagnate. Do you agree that for the benefit of MLS players, there should be tougher rules placed on the amount of internationals that can come to this league? On the other hand, some people are talking about blowing up the international rule all together. Do you think that the American player needs to be protected?
Yes, I do. I think that MLS and U.S. Soccer need to coexist and one needs the other one. I think MLS needs U.S. Soccer to do well and to help promote the league, and I think U.S. Soccer needs MLS to do well and to help bring up the next American national team player. I do think it needs to be done. I think that we always want the best product out there. So having foreign players, I’m all for that. But I do think we need to still produce, protect and bring up the next American player. I don’t know what the exact fix is or what the exact number of international players you can [have], but I think that it’s a mistake at times to assume that foreign players are better because they’re from another country. The American player – there’s a great need for them. There’s plenty that can bring a great product out there on the field. So I think we should find that balance. And again, you need both. You can’t just have American players out there. You need the foreign – whatever culture it is – and I think it can help produce that as well.
There’s been a lot of talk about MLS and Liga MX possibly merging. Tournaments like the Leagues Cup are foreshadowing what it can possibly look like in the future. Do you think this is the right move for MLS, to merge with Liga MX?
I’m not sure if merge is the best, but I do think that some of these tournaments [are beneficial] when they’re done the right way. There was a couple glitches in this year’s tournaments that could be ironed out, but I think that it’s a great thing. When we get to face off against each other, whether it’s Champions League or these special tournaments, I think that it’s a great thing and it helps grow MLS, [especially] if they’re playing Mexican side. I think that it helps them learn the game and see a different side of it, so it’s important.