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A Wondo-ful Weekend: Chris Wondolowski Interview
Between signing a new multi-year contract extension with the San Jose Earthquakes, getting called up to the USMNT’s Copa Centenario squad and coming back from behind against the LA Galaxy, Chris Wondolowski had an action-packed weekend. Alex Morgan was on hand as Wondo talked all things soccer.
It was awkward timing for Chris Wondolowski’s new contract announcement.
The forward signed a new multi-year extension with the San Jose Earthquakes on Thursday afternoon and the Quakes hurried to set up a “big announcement” for Friday morning before the team departed to Los Angeles for the California Clasico. Later that night, Wondo was due to get a call from US Men’s National Team coach Jürgen Klinsmann that would decide his future with the national team and then head to a fundraiser for Street Soccer USA up in San Francisco.
Suffice to say, Wondo had more pressing things on his mind as he sat down for an interview with three Quakes beat reporters to discuss his new contract.
Such was the nature of the last-minute announcement, the Quakes had thrown together a makeshift setup and chairs and tables were strewn around the PR room in the club’s Avaya Stadium offices. I perched on a table opposite of Wondo at the far end of the room.
Considering the circumstances, the thirty-three-year-old was remarkably composed as he walked through his new deal. He explained that the club had opened the dialogue in preseason, with his old contract ending at the end of the year. “I told them I wanted to be here and that [the contract] wasn’t a priority,” said Wondolowski. “We had to get other guys, like Alberto [Quintero] and Simon [Dawkins] and so I told them to get those guys done first. I knew that we’d get it sorted out at some point. It just worked itself out.”
The forward negotiates his own deals and sat down with General Manager John Doyle and President Dave Kaval a couple weeks ago to begin talks. “It was pretty fluid, pretty easygoing and we were all on the same wavelength. It went well,” said Wondo.
As the topic of the discussion moved to bigger picture questions, he tried hard to remain laid back, but his hands belied his disposition; they were tense, nervously fidgeting. Overshadowing the contract announcement was his status with the national team, which remained in limbo at the time, and he knew he would have to address the situation.
Wondo’s last appearance for the national team was last summer in the 2015 Gold Cup, in which the United States disappointingly fell short of the final. Without a goal in the tournament, Wondo was unable to put the 2014 World Cup and his notorious Round of 16 miss against Belgium behind him in his international career.
His thirty-third birthday came and went without another national team call-up, and pundits speculated that his national team career was all but over. With the emergence of Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, the window of opportunity for Wondo’s international career was closing.
Yet the forward’s recent run of blistering form had earned him a spot on Klinsmann’s preliminary roster for the Copa Centenario and forced Klinsmann to reevaluate. For his part, Wondo was clearly dying for the chance to return to the international stage one last time.
And so he couldn’t really celebrate his new contract just yet, or risk omission from the national team or a loss in the California Clasico spoiling the occasion.
Things began to fall into that line later that night when he got the call to Klinsmann to confirm his spot on the Copa squad.
“Words almost can’t express [how much the call-up means] because it’s such a big tournament,” he said.
“I want to be a part of it, I want to help out and prove that I can play at that level. I’ve had ups and downs with the national team and I want to finish it off on the right note. There’s no better way than this tournament.”
Yet Wondo’s focus was already turning to the Galaxy meeting on Sunday and the Quakes had already flown down to LA when the Copa squad was announced on Saturday. Initially, Wondo’s inclusion was met with surprise. Klinsmann had narrowed the selection down between Morris and Wondo, players at opposite ends of their international careers, and opted for the more in-form of the two players.
Wondolowski is thirty-three-years-old, an age at which most players are on the wane. Clubs usually avoid handing players over thirty multi-year deals (some, in fact, make it an explicit policy not to), and, for that matter, national teams usually look towards the next generation at that point. Yet Wondo is still putting up stats that are impressive even by his standards, with seven goals in his first twelve games of the season.
His secret to longevity? “I think my game dictates that,” he said. “I don’t have to run past defenders or hold them off.”
Instead, Wondo’s success relies on his exceptional movement, ability to find pockets of space and clinical finishing — skills only acquired by practice. “That’s one the reasons why I think I can play for a few more years at a very high level,” he added.
The California Clasico was an excellent example of just that. The first half was a tight affair, but Wondo’s movement opened up the game for the Quakes. He came close on multiple occasions, testing Brian Rowe with a side-volley from fifteen yards after ghosting in behind the Galaxy defense. In the thirty-ninth minute, he dispossessed Daniel Steres down the left and saw a toe-poked effort nick off of Rowe and away off the crossbar, but the warning shots were there.
Simon Dawkins, Alberto Quintero, and Matias Perez-Garcia weaved intricate moves in and behind the Galaxy defense and might have ended the first half with three goals on another night.
Yet the Galaxy found the back of the net first as Marvell Wynne deflected a far-post cross into the back of his own net. What Wynne lost, though, Fatai Alashe took back.
The Quakes rallied to score a late equalizer, with Alashe heading home Chad Barrett’s cross in the eighty-seventh minute. The draw rounded off an absolutely Wondo-ful weekend for the Quakes’ top scorer and gave him a boost in confidence heading into Copa.
Although the club looks radically different from just two years ago, they have maintained their fighting spirit and that is what underpins Wondo’s belief in the project that the club are building.
He said: “I wholeheartedly believe that [we can win an MLS Cup in the next few years]. If you look at the strides we’ve made and the steps that the front office has taken, they’re all heading the right direction. I believe in the project. That’s why I like being associated with it and want to be a part of it, because I really do believe it’s headed in the right direction.
“You look at this beautiful stadium, at the team and the coaching staff. I love it. Everyone in the locker room is great, guys you want to compete with. When you’re out there on the field, you see the guys working as hard as they can and that’s motivating. It makes you want to work even harder because you believe in your teammates. That’s special about this team.”
Time is whizzing by right now for Wondo and he is already turning his focus to Copa, but he said: “My body feels good right now. I love going out there, I love competing. I enjoy it. I look forward to coming to practice every day, I can’t wait for games. I’ve always said when that feeling is gone then I know it’s time. But there’s still some left miles on this car.”
For more in-depth coverage of the San Jose Earthquakes, check out Football Every Day’s parter-site QuakesTalk.com.