CARSON, Calif. – Back when Chris Wondolowski was a reserve team player early in his career, he was a long way from thinking about winning the MLS MVP. He was thinking about whether he’d even make it to the next week as a professional.
“I was definitely lining up some options,” he said on Thursday. “I didn’t know how long they would want me there. At any moment, you could get released or cut so you were definitely ... planning on some back-ups.”
It’s a good thing that never happened. On Thursday, the prolific San Jose Earthquakes forward was officially named 2012 Volkswagen MLS MVP after a season in which he matched Roy Lassiter’s all-time single-season scoring record of 27 goals.
That has rendered complete an amazing journey for Wondolowski, who was a Supplemental Draft pick back in 2005 out of tiny Chico State, and struggled to find any sort of regular playing time over his first four-and-a-half seasons as a pro with the Earthquakes/Houston Dynamo franchise.
But since being dealt back to his hometown Quakes midway through 2009, the Bay Area native has been quite simply the most prolific goalscorer in league history – his 61 goals over the past three seasons are the most ever by any player over that span.
WATCH: Wondo's 2012 highlights
On Thursday, at the official MVP presentation at the Home Depot Center, Wondo was celebrating winning the award over Graham Zusi and even Thierry Henry – a legend he admits he idolizes. And he couldn’t stop thanking everyone who helped him along the way of his journey, a rags-to-riches tale in the soccer sense.
He thanked San Jose head coach Frank Yallop for making him a star. He thanked the man who drafted him and then traded him, Houston’s Dominic Kinnear. He even thanked former Dynamo assistant coach John Spencer, who has been out of the public eye since being fired by the Portland Timbers this past summer.
And he thanked his teammates, without whom, he said, he’d never have even come close to his jaw-dropping 27-goal total in 2012. Because, he says, being the guy who could get cut tomorrow gives him unique perspective on how to carry himself and how to see greatness in everyone.
“Obviously, being low man on the totem pole, you see what it takes, you see how everyone interacts and just kind of being able to work your way up a little bit, you see how each part can affect a team,” he said. “That’s why I really feel that you are only as strong as your weakest link.”
And as Wondolowski listed the names of his teammates who helped him most – Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Marvin Chávez, Simon Dawkins – he threw in perhaps the oddest one of all: Josh Suggs.
A part-timer on San Jose’s roster, the 23-year-old defender also came from humble beginnings, just like Wondo. The Humboldt State alum was signed back in March, loaned out to Tampa Bay of the NASL and then waived in June, yet continued to train with the Quakes while spending time with the USL's LA Blues.
But Suggs was also universally lauded by San Jose players for busting his tail in training and carrying himself like any day could be his last in professional soccer.
Maybe Wondo sees a little bit of himself in the guy.
“I’d like to help send a message that if you continue to work on something and you continue to believe, I think that’s the biggest thing,” the new MVP said. “You can always work on something. But if you don’t believe it – that’s the difference. You can eventually get there.”