More than goals: Wondo shows off new side of his game

SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski may have tied the MLS all-time single-season scoring record with 27 goals last year, but that wasn’t even the most surprising offensive statistic from his MVP campaign.

With seven assists in 2,813 regular-season minutes, Wondolowski doubled his lifetime assist total in MLS play. That represented an increase of more than 240 percent from the assist rate Wondolowski clocked in his previous 6,756 MLS minutes.

“Chris is really starting to turn into not just a goalscorer, but into a playmaking player on our team,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said earlier this week. “I don’t think he gets the credit he’s due.”

By his own admission, Wondolowski is not going to provide San Jose with a true No. 10, unspooling long passes to set teammates free on goalkeepers. But he has gotten better at turning the attention paid to him by opposing defenses into a weapon of its own.

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“I feel I can add a dynamic where I might have more attention than some others, and if I have that, I can lay off the ball,” Wondolowski said after returning from US men's national team camp. “I can make a pass to the open guy. That’s no problem.”

Said Yallop: “Is he going to dribble [past] guys and slide guys in? No. But is he going to pass the ball at right times to guys, like he did last year? I thought he did a nice job with that. ... I think his football’s come on, his actual playing.”

One facet of the growth in Wondolowski’s assist numbers has a chicken-or-egg feel to it. Teammates Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart each set career bests with 13 and 10 goals, respectively, and it’s difficult to parse if that was more because Wondolowski was setting them up or if the MVP benefitted from rejuvenated play by both target men.

“The team doing well helps any player, that’s for sure,” Yallop said. “He’s got options when he has the ball, a lot of movement from his teammates. Trust in his teammates [goes] back and forth – he trusts them, they trust him. That comes with a side that’s pretty confident and Chris was doing his thing every single week. Whether he scored or not, Chris was playing well.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.