Chris Wondolowski’s quest to become the all-time leading goalscorer stalled at BC Place on Saturday night. If there was a match you fancied the veteran striker to grab a goal in, it was against the Whitecaps.
Wondolowski has been something of a ‘Caps killer over the years, with 13 goals against Vancouver. This time he came up dry, leaving him still four goals shy of setting the all-time MLS goalscoring record.
After a poor season for the Earthquakes, Wondolowski’s goal chase has been a welcome distraction for the club, although for the player, as exciting as closing down on the record may be, it must also have been a little tiring getting asked about it constantly these past few weeks.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Wondolowski admitted to AFTN after Saturday’s match. “Each question, each week. It is what it is. I’m glad I’m in that spot, but at the same time I do hope to get it done so I don’t have to answer.”
He’s inching closer to grabbing the record this year, but the matches are running out fast. As things currently stand Wondolowski is on 142 goals, three behind tying Landon Donovan’s all time record, and four away from beating it.
So is it going to be more of a relief for him when he does get finally it?
“Yeah,” Wondolowski said. “It’s an amazing chase and it’s pretty cool. I definitely hope that I get there but it’s just another thing. I just want to win.”
With seven matches left this year to achieve the record, it’s going to be a tall order. Wondolowski has only hit eight goals this season, his lowest goal tally since 2009. With only two goals in his last 10 games, with five of those matches seeing him start on the bench, the odds are not in his favour.
His future both in San Jose and MLS is still up in the air. After 14 seasons in the league, the 35-year-old is starting to feel a little bit banged up. While you imagine that setting the new goalscoring record would be a factor to drive him on for one more push, Wondolowski wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know,” Wondolowski said with a sigh when we asked him how much more he had left in him. “This year has taken a lot out of me. Both mentally and physically. I don’t know to be honest.”
It’s been a tough season for the Quakes, with their last three games summing the team up this year – flashes of brilliance from their strong attack, let down by defensive lapses by the second worst backline in the Western Conference in terms of goals against (tied with the Whitecaps if that description all sounds too eerily familiar).
After throwing away a two goal lead against Vancouver the previous week, San Jose didn’t really start threatening the Whitecaps until they were two down this past weekend, and although they caused some palpitations amongst the ‘Caps in stoppage time, pulling a goal back and coming close on another two occasions, it was too little, too late.
“Not good enough across the board,” was Wondolowski’s take of the overall performance at B.C. Place. “Anytime you dig yourself a hole at 2-0 it’s definitely tough to go down, it’s good to have a little bit of fighting spirit in there and a chance or two at the end, but all across the board, we’re not good enough.”
And that’s been the Quake’s problem this season. They have four wins this year, two at home and two on the road, and were officially eliminated from the playoffs with Saturday’s loss. Their postseason hopes had been long extinguished, however, as the team struggled under new head coach Mikael Stahre.
Yet San Jose boast some impressive offensive pieces in Danny Hoesen, Vako, and Wondolowski himself. Between them they’ve put up 27 goals and 14 assists. The Quakes have also beaten Western Conference leaders FC Dallas twice this season, one of only three teams in the West to manage that.
Leaky defence aside, when you look at performances like those two Dallas matches, it’s something of a headscratcher as to how this season has played out.
“Definitely it is a little bit,” Wondolowski told us. “Especially in this league. It’s the little plays, little things, tracking runners, making that extra pass, doing the little things better than the other team. We’ve only done that four times this year, so I think we are right where we deserve to be.”
Wondolowski has spent 11 and a half of his 14 MLS seasons with San Jose. The club clearly holds a special meaning for him. Whether he’ll be back with the Quakes for one more season as a player remains to be seen, right now, he knows what the team needs to focus on to be competitive for next year.
“I think that at times we play too individualistic,” Wondolowski mused. “You can’t do that. You have to play team ball. You have to have identity and play and execute the game plan. When you go AWOL on that it hurts.”
You have to imagine that Wondolowski will be back for one more season if he fails to set the new record this year. Whether that ends up being in San Jose or somewhere new as an impact sub is what remains to be seen. It would be an expensive option for someone, but likely a productive one.
If Stahre was to move on after this season, Wondolowski in a player/coach role at the Earthquakes would not seem to be too far of a stretch either.
We’ll leave you with an anecdote from one of the Whitecaps Supporters group leaders from the weekend. As Wondolowski was leaving the pitch on Saturday he shouted at him, “we really want you to get the record and take it from Donovan”. Wondolowski replied that he’s been getting that a lot!