Matias Almeyda

Wondolowski: ‘I want to play for one more year’

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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.

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 18: Chris Wondolowski #8 of the San Jose Earthquakes holds the ball that he scored his 146th career goal with during a press conference after a Major League Soccer (MLS) match between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Chicago Fire on May 18, 2019 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California. (Photo by Maciek Gudrymowicz/isiphotos/Getty Images)

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.


Just innate?

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. 

SAN JOSE, CA – SEPTEMBER 25: San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski (8) chants with the fans in the stands before the MLS soccer match between the Philadelphia Union and San Jose Earthquakes on September 25, 2019 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers v. Quakes, Dallas v. SKC on Decision Day

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It’s Decision Day and, as always, the stakes are high for a handful of teams and players.

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In the Western Conference, the San Jose Earthquakes travel to Providence Park to take on a Brian Fernandez and Diego Valeri-less Portland Timbers. A win for either side earns them a ticket into MLS Cup playoffs.

Over in Texas, FC Dallas, too, control their own destiny. If Luchi Gonzalez and company earn a win against a struggling Sporting Kansas City, they’ll clinch their way into MLS’ big party.

The Golden Boot is for the taking, with only a goal separating Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Vela and LAFC host the Colorado Rapids led by Tim Howard, who plays his final game of an illustrious career. Zlatan and LA Galaxy travel to Houston to take on the Dynamo, who say goodbye to their captain, DaMarcus Beasley.

Decision Day’s full schedule

FC Dalla v. Sporting Kansas City — 4 p.m. ET

LAFC  v. Colorado Rapids — 4 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes — 4 p.m. ET

Orlando City v. Chicago Fire — 4 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Real Salt Lake — 4 p.m. ET

D.C. United v. FC Cincinatti — 4 p.m. ET

Montreal Impact v. NY Red Bulls — 4 p.m. ET

Toronto FC v. Columbus Crew — 4 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders v. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy — 4 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union v. NYCFC — 4 p.m. ET

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 4 p.m. ET

MLS Decision Day Preview: Quakes, Timbers battle it out; Vela, Zlatan go for Golden Boot

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In the Western Conference, four teams fight one last time for two playoff spots, while Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – two goals apart from one another – go toe-to-toe for the league’s Golden Boot. Now, that’s a Decision Day that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

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Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Unlike the Portland Timbers, the San Jose Earthquakes were hit with a major distraction midweek ahead of their most important game of the year: Matias Almeyda’s rumored move to Monterrey. After the rumors made its rounds in Mexico and then stateside, the Northern Californian club decided to release a statement, which denied any contact from the Liga MX club and San Jose.

Amidst all of the disturbance, Almeyda and company assured that they’re going for the win in what is a win-and-your-are-in scenario.

“We put ourselves in a huge opportunity, a good opportunity, and I think that it’s a phenomenal environment and we’re going to go get the job done and how this group knows how to,” Quakes’ fullback Nick Lima said midweek. “It’s exciting.”

The Timbers, who can still clinch with a loss if Dallas losses to draws, is approaching Sunday’s game at Providence Park with the same, winning mindset.

“It’s a must win. That’s all it is,” said Portland defender Zarek Valentin. “The focus starts now because we know that we control our own destiny in terms of winning and getting in and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the year. Obviously, we wish we could be a little bit higher, but we believe in ourselves and luckily it’s in our hands. We’ve just got to get out there, get some points and get in the playoffs.”

This year’s Decision Day – with the Eastern Conference playoff bracket set – may lack playoff implications, but the Quakes and Timbers matchup makes up for it.

FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City:  Following a bumpy season, FC Dallas controls its own destiny heading into Sunday in what has been its first year under coach Luchi Gonzalez. Their scenario, too, is pretty simple: win and you’re in.

A home game against a surprise playoff absentee Sporting Kansas City stands in their way, but like many other teams in the league at this stage of the competition, Dallas are already in playoff mode.

“The way we’re looking at it from here on out is there’s five games to win an MLS Cup – something that the club doesn’t have on the shelf yet,” first-year head coach Gonzalez said this week. “And we’re really excited to play this first game of five to try to take the next step in the pursuit of an MLS Cup. That’s our focus.”

LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids: The Colorado Rapids, who have been on a hot streak since the takeover of Robin Fraser, are, mathematically, still in the playoff hunt. The likelihood of them clinching, however, stand at less than one percent, according to FIveThirtyEight.

What is a real possibility is Carlos Vela being presented with the league’s Golden Boot. LAFC’s captains goal count is at 31 – one shy of breaking Josef Martinez’s single-season record and two ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 29 goals.

That said, it wasn’t Vela leading the headlines ahead of Sunday, but Zlatan, who claimed the only reason he’s behind the Mexican’s count is because he’s featured in less games this season.

“I have 29 goals in 28 games,” the 38-year-old Swedish striker said. “If I would have the same amount (of) games like the other ones, it would be different.”

“But now I’m chasing someone that has more games than me,” he added ahead of LA Galaxy’s game against the Houston Dynamo. “But if we score we score, we’ll have to see what the end number will be. We’ll see. If there still is a possibility, we’ll try.”

Decision Day’s full schedule

FC Dalla v. Sporting Kansas City — 4 p.m. ET

LAFC  v. Colorado Rapids — 4 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes — 4 p.m. ET

Orlando City v. Chicago Fire — 4 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Real Salt Lake — 4 p.m. ET

D.C. United v. FC Cincinatti — 4 p.m. ET

Montreal Impact v. NY Red Bulls — 4 p.m. ET

Toronto FC v. Columbus Crew — 4 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders v. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy — 4 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union v. NYCFC — 4 p.m. ET

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 4 p.m. ET

MLS weekend preview: Quakes look to stay alive, Revs one win away from playoffs

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It’s the penultimate weekend of MLS regular season, and the playoff picture is nowhere near being completed, especially in the Western Conference. With two Sundays to go, four teams remain in the hunt for the final spot in the East. In the West, the fifth, sixth and seventh spots are yet to be decided.

Here’s a quick preview of each match being played this Sunday:

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders: Will the San Jose Earthquakes’ miraculous turnaround under Matias Almeyda go the next level with the clinching of a playoff spot? Only a point away from surpassing the red line, San Jose are statistically forced to win against a playoff-destined Seattle Sounders, who look to move as high as second in the Western Conference with two games to play, on Sunday if they want to make an already laudable reconfiguration into a generational one. With the return of Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza, the Quakes’ chances will be as good as they’ll get at this point of the season: a coin flip.

New England Revolution vs. NYCFC:  NYCFC’s visit to Gillette Stadium is the Eastern Conference’s biggest game of the weekend. Domenec Torrent’s side are in a comfortable position – six points clear of second place Philadelphia Union. The New England Revolution, however, are a win away from clinching a playoff berth. Then again, with Bruce Arena leading the Revs, one can assume that the home team will sneak into the postseason.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers: After a rocky start to their season, the Portland Timbers are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Timbers’ followers, clinching playoffs is not the topic of interests. After six years, Diego Valeri is reportedly playing his final days in Rose City, as contract talks between both parties have hit a roadblocks. The question now becomes: will Valeri’s  uncertain future affect the Timbers’ on the field starting this Sunday against an eliminated Sporting KC?

Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC: After 13 years, countless goals and memories, the Chicago Fire say goodbye to Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire, who are relocating to Soldier Field next season in the hopes of drawing interest from proper Chicago’s large soccer fanbase, are not entirely out of the playoff race either. With a loss from the Revs and win at home, Veljko Paunovic and company would be only a point removed from New England. Chicago’s latest result – a scoreless draw against a poor Cincinnati – doesn’t give the impression that they’ll be able to edge a balanced Toronto, who are in the postseason yet again.

Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo: Real Salt Lake continue to produce, despite their internal turmoil. On Friday, the club parted ways with general manager Craig Waibel in the wake of a lawsuit raised by former coach Mike Petke, who made a reference that Waibel was critical of owner Dell Loy Hansen and said he was resigning from his position at the end of the season. Recent history indicates the team will respond positively to such self-inflicted roadblocks. But with only a foot across the red line, it will be interesting to see how they show up against a crumbling Houston Dynamo.

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas: Robin Fraser’s new-look Colorado Rapids aren’t out yet, but their playoff chances hang on by a thread, if that. On the other side, FC Dallas – a point above San Jose – look to win out and, as a result, sneak into the playoffs. They’ll have to do so against a new Rapids scheme in which attackers and defenders alike are scoring. No easy task for a Dallas team that has allowed five goals in their last three games.

FC Cincinnati vs. Orlando City: While Carlos Vela actively looks to break the league record for the most scored goals in a season, FC Cincinnati hopes not to be the team to allow the most goals in a single season. They’re one away from doing so. With Orlando City, who need to win out in order to have any last-minute chances to qualify, Ron Jans’ side’s probabilities are slim.

Montreal Impact vs. Atlanta United: Montreal Impact are one of the four teams fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference’s big party. With midweek Canadian Championship celebrations still fresh, the Impact may have plenty of inspiration to pick up the reaming six points (or not). Jose Martinez-less Atlanta United, on the other hand, look to bounce back from a crushing loss to NYCFC that cost them the second spot in the East.

Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union: Fresh off a win against the Quakes, Jim Curtin and company look to separate themselves from Atlanta United, and seal second place in the East. The Crew, who have proven to be a threat time and time again this season, will put up a fight.

Minnesota United vs. LAFC: With a Supporters’ Shield to point towards, LAFC have every reason to take things slow until the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. That said, given that Vela is one goal away from tying Martinez’s league record, though, the Black-and-Gold will likely continue moving forward at full speed until the Mexican writes his name in the record book. If that holds true, LAFC and second place Minnesota United will be a must-watch.

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United:  A rivalry with two games left in the regular season is never a bad thing, especially when both teams are looking to climb the standings before the playoffs. To add to a thick plot, both teams are already in good form, and only a point apart in the Eastern Conference standings.

LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Just a couple of months ago, the LA Galaxy were in serious trouble of making the playoffs. But with the improvement of their backline and the non-stop dominating play from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy now find themselves playoff bound. It’s the type of transformation the Whitecaps were looking for but were never able to accomplish in Marc Dos Santos’ first year at the helm. As expected, the home side will look to exploit that and aim for the West’s second spot.

Almeyda, Wondolowski sent off in Quakes’ fall against Atlanta (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Melodrama took center stage in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, as Matias Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza were all sent off on Saturday. Josef Martinez, six games away from tying Lionel Messi’s world record for most consecutive goals, left the field in 79th minute following an injury, ending his MLS-record run at 15 games. Playing with 10 players from the 34th minute onwards, the Quakes held on to the draw up until the 90th minute. Unmarked inside the box, Emerson Hyndman rocketed the ball past Daniel Vega, who recorded nine saves throughout the night. In stoppage time, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was rewarded for his stellar performance with a goal of his own. With a game at hand, Eastern Conference leaders, NYCFC, are three points ahead Frank De Boer‘s side. The Quakes, on the other hand, have internal fires to put out as they have lost six of their last eight, and are only a point above the red line with three games to play.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Great run by Espinoza, greater ball by Vega  — Daniel Vega and Cristian Espinoza were players that San Jose were desperately missing last season. This sequence says it all.

 

90′ — Emerson Hyndman wins it for the Five Stripes   — Hyndman, with no one near him, seals three points for the home side.

 

90′ + 2 — Martinez takes advantage of broken San Jose  — Martinez’s goal was only salt in San Jose’s fresh wound.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity”  Martinez

Goalscorers: Meram (4′), Guzan (27′ – OG), Hyndman (90′), Martinez (90′ + 2)