Chris Wondolowski reaches 100 goals in Major League Soccer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Chris Wondolowski's celebration gave no hint to the size of his accomplishment.
Wondolowski had just dispatched a 68th minute penalty -- the 100th regular season goal of his career -- to draw the San Jose Earthquakes level with Orlando City, 1-1. But there was no run to the corner flag, no lifting up of his jersey to reveal a t-shirt underneath with a message celebrating the milestone. Instead, all the Quakes' forward could think about was getting back to the center circle as quickly as possible to get another one against an Orlando side playing with 10 men.
As it turned out, the game ended in a draw, but Wondolowski still joined a select group, becoming just the ninth player in league history to reach the century mark. That said, Wondolowski found it difficult to reconcile the result with his personal achievement.
"It's good to get a point, it's good to come back, but the way things were, it's a bit frustrating," Wondolowski said afterward.
"That's always tough, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But I'm grateful. I know the historic value. I love it and do appreciate it. But I think it's one of those things that will slowly sink in. It hasn't sunk in yet."
In some ways, it would have been more fitting had the tally showcased Wondolowski's clever movement and impeccable sense of timing, traits that have seen him Jedi-mind-trick his way past MLS defenses for a decade now. But the reaction was vintage Wondo.
"That shows his character," said teammate Jordan Stewart. "He wasn't celebrating his 100th goal, he was trying to get the win. That's why he's our captain. It's not about him. It's about the team trying to win games. To me, that shows everything about the player."
It was a match that was by no means an advertisement for the league. Neither team managed to create much in a game that was held at the cavernous Levi's Stadium as opposed to the cozier Avaya Stadium.
The game did seem to tilt San Jose's way when Orlando midfielder Brek Shea was sent off for a challenge on Sanna Nyassi in the 51st minute. But 13 minutes later, San Jose suffered a five-second spell that manager Dominic Kinnear called, "probably the worst we defended all year."
A long ball fell on the bounce to Cyle Larin, who nodded the ball forward and was then clattered into by San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham, resulting in a penalty. Kaka dispatched the ensuing spot kick, but then Orlando midfielder Darwin Ceren returned the favor a scant four minutes later when he bowled over Stewart, and Wondolowski converted for his seventh goal of the season, sending Orlando goalkeeper Tally Hall the wrong way.
"I have two mentalities, [to taking penalties]," he said. "One, I try to read the keeper, and the other I just put my laces through it, picking a side. This one, I was going to go to my right, and I saw Tally get the jump on it, so I just rolled it the other side."
Afterwards, the two former teammates were left to reflect on the moment.
"[Hall] was joking around, he gave me a hard time," said Wondolowski. "That was my first goal [against him] so he goes, 'Of course that had to be No. 100.' I said, 'I just want to get you in the history books.' It was some good ribbing. It was fun."
The same could be said for witnessing Wondolowski's MLS journey. The first five years of his career saw him net a grand total of four goals with San Jose and then the Houston Dynamo following the team's relocation. Even while Wondolowski struggled for playing time, he soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the likes of Brian Ching and Dwayne De Rosario.
"De Rosario was one of those guys, he believed that every shot was going in," said Wondolowski. "He told me that and it was one of those things where you need that mentality. Not all of them go in, you know that they won't, but the next one will, in your mind. You need to keep that mentality, and if you have that mentality that really helps."
Then in a bit of ironic overload, Kinnear traded Wondolowski and a second round draft pick back to his hometown team in 2009 for Cam Weaver. Weaver netted a total of 12 times for Houston in five seasons. As for Wondolowski, starting with the 2010 campaign, the forward's numbers exploded, including a MLS record-tying 27 in 2012. He has now hit double figures in goals for five straight seasons and looks poised to make it six in 2015.
Most Career MLS Goals
Landon Donovan - 144
Jeff Cunningham - 134
Jaime Moreno - 133
Ante Razov - 114
Jason Kreis - 108
Dwayne De Rosario - 104
Taylor Twellman - 101
Edson Buddle - 100
Chris Wondolowski - 100
"A lot of people probably thought he was lucky," said Kinnear. "We would laugh in Houston and with all the guys that were friends with him, go, 'How about Wondo banging in them goals?' He's not running by people, he's just finishing goals, he's just making the most of his opportunities. But along the way, he became a better soccer player too. His hold-up play has been good. He makes his living inside the box but because of his better play, he brings more people into the play and he gets better chances."
Wondolowski added that an improved mentality played a part as well. In his younger years, he admitted he just didn't want to make a mistake.
"It was one of those things that I wanted it so bad I would run myself out of good opportunities, good movement," he said. "Now I know. I just let the game come to me. I trust it. The game has slowed down a bit. I've adjusted to it, and [worked on] my touch. A lot of hard work too. It's just one of those things where now I'm more confident, and under pressure and in tight spaces, where before I'd start freaking out and spazzing out, now I'm more calm, cool, and collected."
No doubt, some fans will never forgive Wondolowski for his missed chance for the U.S. national team against Belgium at last year's World Cup. But there is something to be said for consistency and longevity, in any league. In the context of MLS, Wondolowski deserves to be commended for both. The fact that he did it for the club he grew up supporting as a kid, in front of friends and family no less, only added to the sense of accomplishment.
"I got a hug from dad after, he had tears in his eyes," said Wondolowski. "It's one of those things, he definitely appreciated it, and I appreciate everything he's done. He was my first coach. That's what makes it special."
Perhaps the enormity of the accomplishment is sinking in after all.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.