He earned it, having just scored his seventh goal of the season and recording 87 minutes of hard running in a high-tempo game between two teams that love to push the pace. When Wondo planted himself on the grass at Earthquakes Stadium, the venue his steady stream of 166 career goals helped build, it was only partly about physical fatigue, however.
He was doubted and written off.— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) November 5, 2020
But he poured his heart into this club and city.
Now, he is the greatest goal scorer in @MLS history and leading his club into the playoffs.
Take a bow, Wondo. You deserve it. pic.twitter.com/399Rlo4huP
“I was taking it all in,” he said later, flashing his familiar easygoing smile to reporters on the postgame video press conference. “Many different – my mind’s everywhere right now. One, I'm enjoying the moment. I'm taking it all in because you have to enjoy the moment. It's a lot of hard work. Time, blood, sweat, tears have gone into this.”
The “this” could apply to the Quakes’ stirring (and crucial) shorthanded win over an LAFC team that's dominated them for most of their three-year shared history, or their unexpected climb into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs from the dark spot in the MLS basement they’d occupied just a few weeks ago.
It also works well as a reference to Wondo’s entire career – a study in intelligence, tenacity and heart that spanned from his college career at NCAA Division II program Chico State to years spent toiling in obscurity on the Houston Dynamo and Quakes’ reserve team, before finally breaking through with an MLS Golden Boot-winning campaign at age 27.
That was back in 2010, and he’s hit double digits in scoring during nine of the last 10 seasons, reaching an amazing level of consistency that’s powered his ascent to the top of the all-time MLS scoring charts and a more-than-respectable international career. It adds up to what’s surely the most unlikely and triumphant story of individual achievement in the league’s 25-year history. And based on what Wondolowski announced at the start of this season, that run will come to an end at some point in the next month.
That was his original plan, at least. Signing a one-year contract last winter, 2020 was supposed to be his swan song, one last go-round at age 37.
The jarringly unprecedented events of the past eight months have made most re-evaluate assumptions, of course. While he maintains that “Plan A” is to lead the Quakes to MLS Cup glory and exit the stage a champion, Wondo has occasionally admitted that he’s leaving that door open just a crack beyond that scenario.
“You know, it's been a roller coaster of a year,” he said Wednesday night. “But I was actually joking earlier, the best time and the time you have fun is the moment you get off that roller coaster. While you're riding it, you're scared and you're holding on, and trying to hold on to your lunch and try not to throw that up. But it's still fun after and I think that's kind of what this season embodied. It’s been a roller coaster. There was ups and downs, but we finally get off and I had a blast.”
He appears rejuvenated by the passion and intensity of Matias “Pelado” Almeyda’s tactics and leadership, which have helped haul San Jose out of the doldrums. He's still getting on the end of chances and banging in the goals at roughly equivalent rates to past seasons, further proof that his greatest strength is his soccer brain rather than his legs or lungs.
He can be downright devastating as a super-sub, a role that seems eminently sustainable for one more lap around the track.
Full disclosure: This correspondent is fervently hoping Wondo treats us to one more year, and I’m not alone…
We will be starting a petition for Wondo not to retire. Let us know if you’re interested in signing.— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) November 5, 2020
The man himself is mum on the future for now, not in a coy sense, but out of an eminently understandable desire to live in the moment before it’s gone.
“Again, I wish I could give you guys a definitive answer. Believe me, I would,” he said with another wry smile when asked about his postgame reverie. “But I don’t know the future, I don't know what's going to happen next year. So I also wanted to take in that moment.
“I hope that we finish as high as we can and somehow we host a playoff game, but I’m also conscious that it could be my last. So I wanted to take that moment in and enjoy every second of it and every moment that I’ve had at [the stadium]. I was talking to [Quakes sideline reporter] Danielle Slaton – this is my home. I consider it a home, I feel comfortable at home, and I will be here and see it from many different views than where I do now, but it will still always be home.”