SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s been a busy week at Avaya Stadium, as head coach Matias Almeyda continues to meet with many of his San Jose Earthquakes players ahead of a long off-season, sharing individualized plans for their workout activities over the next three months.
Some players won’t be back in 2020 for a team that narrowly missed qualifying for the playoffs this season, but others will, looking to build on the momentum Almeyda fostered in a campaign that saw the Quakes more than double their points total, from a league-low 21 to 44, following a disastrous 2018 season.
One name that will be back in San Jose is captain Chris Wondolowski, who confirmed that, once he signs the new contract offer he’s been presented, he will play one more year for the Earthquakes. The team’s leading scorer in 2019 with 15 goals, the most of any domestic striker in all of MLS, the league’s most prolific goal scorer of all time is excited to continue his storied career.
“Yeah, it’s just about ironed out,” Wondolowski said. “I do want to come back for one more. That’s the plan right now, and then move on to another position off the field. I am having so much fun right now, so much joy out there. I’ve talked to the family, I’ve talked to the wife, and I really, really want just one more year.”
Wondolowski, who will be 37 years old when the 2020 MLS season begins, feels physically stronger than he has in years, and it almost seems premature to say he’ll only play for one more season. 2019 saw the Quakes and their captain hit some high marks, but it was another season without a trip to the MLS Cup playoff, and Wondo was still bitter at the another year without a trophy.
“It was a mixed bag,” Wondolowski said. “It’s always disappointing when you don’t make the playoffs. That was one of our main goals, a major stepping stone along the way of what we wanted to do. But we can take away a lot of positives, including having a foundation of how we want to build this team going forward. We were able to answer a lot of questions.”
Wondolowski was an opening day starter for San Jose, and he entered the 2019 season just one goal behind Landon Donovan’s all-time MLS record of 145 career goals. The captain struggled to find his form in the opening month, which featured four straight losses by the Earthquakes, and he soon saw himself out of Almeyda’s rotation.
He turned it around on May 18, the team’s 12th game of the season, against the Chicago Fire at Avaya Stadium. Almeyda trusted Wondolowski with a start, and the forward delivered, scoring four goals to leap past Donovan as the league’s scoring champion and powering the Earthquakes to an emphatic 4-1 win over the Fire. Wondolowski started all but three of the season’s remaining games, finishing with 15 goals, his best mark since reaching 16 four years ago.
“Coming into this season, I definitely questioned some things about myself coming off of a very poor year,” Wondolowski said. “I did wonder if I was still going to be able to hang. So it was very nice to be able to put up some numbers. That being said, there are still many parts of my game I can polish up, still be better in, and better so that I can help the team win games.
The captain’s season statistics were also his best overall since he earned the MLS MVP award in 2012, and his importance on and off the field for the Earthquakes in 2019 is indisputable. That he will be back to lead the team in 2020, even at the ripe old age of 37, means a lot to his teammates.
“I think age doesn’t matter, you saw that this year,” defender Florian Jungwirth said. “When you know your guy who scored 15 goals is staying for another year, that will be nice. That will be great for the team, for the competition up front, whether we get new players or not. That’s good when you have a guy up top who needs only one chance to get one goal. He’s a good person for the locker room and brings a nice atmosphere, so everyone will be happy to have him back.”
Jungwirth, who was the team’s Defender of the Year award winner this season, also confirmed that he will be back with the Earthquakes in 2020. The German centerback, who started the last 30 games of the season following March’s four-game losing streak, is as an emotional leader as is Wondolowski for the Quakes, and the return of both will be important to the team’s success next year.
But Wondolowski, who Almeyda indicated will have to fight to keep his role as a starter, isn’t simply happy to be returning. He will have as his mission a singular focus in 2020, one that has been at the core of his expectations every year since his rookie season of 2005: win a championship. He was part of two MLS Cup winners while with the Houston Dynamo, and he wants to finish his career lifting a cup for San Jose.
“I am excited knowing that going into next year, I’m not worrying about goals records or any accolades — it’s strictly for winning games,” Wondolowski said. “That’s kind of a cool thing, kind of a different thing I haven’t had in my mindframe in that sense. It’s going to be fun.”
No matter what age he’ll be in 2020, never count out the Quakes leader. And with the pressure off to accomplish individual goals, Wondolowski will give every ounce of energy he has to the team’s efforts. Perhaps next year will be his last with the Earthquakes, but Wondolowski plans to do whatever he can to help the team come out on top.