SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Sitting two goals down on this year’s leaderboard of MLS top scorers with only seven matches to play, San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski might not be able to catch LA’s Landon Donovan.
But with his next tally for the Quakes — possibly on Saturday vs. Houston (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) — Wondolowski will tie Donovan on the franchise’s all-time scoring list, with 31 apiece. And with his next goal after that, the 28-year-old Danville native will take over second place among San Jose’s most prolific threats, trailing only Ronald Cerritos’ career total of 61.
“It’s a huge benchmark and a huge honor,” Wondolowski said of pulling up alongside Donovan. “When he was here, he did amazing things, so just to even be close to him, it’s pretty special.”
Wondolowski was a senior at De La Salle High when Donovan arrived in Northern California in 2001, and still recalls the impact the then-19-year-old had.
“To be honest, the years leading up to that, there wasn’t a whole lot [of success],” Wondolowski said. “The year 2000 [when the Quakes crashed to 7-17-8] was one of the worst years that they’ve ever had. So him coming in was really that sparkplug. It brought a huge vibe and just rejuvenated soccer in the Bay Area.”
As players, it’s not entirely fair to measure Wondolowski straight up against Donovan, whom Quakes coach Frank Yallop calls “the best American player ever.”
“He was the future of American soccer,” Wondolowski said. “He had big shoes to fill because he had a lot riding on him. I’m just one of those guys that try to play and enjoy it.”
Yet it’s interesting to note that, while Donovan was the star power behind San Jose’s 2001 and 2003 championships, Wondolowski has become just as much the face of the franchise for the reborn Quakes, a fact cemented by his endless stream of highlights during the team’s mad dash to the 2010 playoffs. Wondolowski eventually knocked off then LA foward Edson Buddle on the final matchday to take home the 2010 Golden Boot award and scored in the Quakes’ first playoff victory since being reborn in 2008.
“It’s better than everybody not knowing your name” Wondolowski said of the exposure. “I had about six years of that. I really love it. I love this community, I love this franchise. I don’t like being ‘out there’ — I’d rather just be in the background, but I’d rather have that [attention] than not having it.”
Donovan’s legacy in San Jose took a bad knock after he left the team in 2004 and shortly thereafter wound up back in MLS with the Galaxy. In contrast, Wondolowski is seen by fans as a native son who bleeds the colors.
“I think it plays a big, big part,” said Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales — has played alongside both Donovan and Wondolowski — of Wondo’s popularity. “I think that’s why the fans love him so much; he’s from the area and he’s doing well for us, scoring goals.
“But Landon, when he was here, the fans where behind him. He was 18 when he got here. He’s from LA, so he wanted to play there. You can’t hold it against him. It’s the way it goes some times.”
To Wondolowski, the love affair with the fans is mutual.
“These fans are knowledgeable and dedicated,” he said. “I just try to go out there and work hard. I think they appreciate that the most. ... We were 13 games without a win, but they’re cheering as loud as ever, another sellout. Just to see them behind us like that is really something special.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes