SAN JOSE, Calif. — It took a lot longer than anyone expected, but Chris Wondolowski finally broke the record for most MLS goals ever, and, wow, did he do it with style.
His four goals vaulted him past Landon Donovan for the all-time MLS mark, giving him #148 for his career and leading the San Jose Earthquakes to a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Fire. Wondolowski was also credited with his 41st all-time game winning goal, tied with Donovan for most in MLS history.
Fittingly, Wondolowski scored his hat-trick-plus-one on Hall of Fame Day at Avaya Stadium, which celebrated the induction of all-time Quakes great Richard Mulrooney and long-time trainer Dave Obenour. Wondolowski’s own spot in the exclusive club is all but assured upon retirement as he is far and away the franchise’s most prolific offensive player ever.
“To get it on a win, and play like we did today, I thought we played very well,” Wondolowski said. “It is a relief now, I’m not going to lie, but it is still so surreal.”
The first goal came in classic Wondo fashion, as he waiting patiently at the back post in the 21st minute, ready for his opportunity. Shea Salinas, whose marvelous move on the left side opened up space in the area, slid the ball across the area, and Wondolowski did all the rest, guiding the ball into the back of the net for a 1-0 Earthquakes lead.
“It is a culmination of a lot of hard work from Wondo,” Salinas said. “We’ve been teammates the longest, and it’s just an honor to be a part of what he’s done. He’s an incredible person, an incredible teammate, and an incredible goalscorer, so it’s been cool to be a part of it.”
He nearly broke the record in the 44th minute, as a clever bit of possession by the forward gave him an opening on the left side, but Wondolowski skied his shot wide of the target and into the Avaya Stadium endline bar.
Goal #146 came about as a bit of a gift, as Fire goalkeeper David Ousted was unable to hang onto a cross into the box by Nick Lima and dropped it right in front of Wondolowski. The Earthquakes future Hall of Famer made no mistake on Ousted’s gaffe, poking the ball home from close range and prompting a rapturous celebration with his teammates.
“To be honest, I probably crashed in on every shot like that probably 1,000 times, and 999 times he catches it and holds it and I have to run back,” Wondolowski said. “This time, I saw it come to the ground and I was able to get a toe on it. It was amazing to celebrate with the team, with the subs right there. We all know how important the goal is. Everyone is celebrating exactly the same.”
Salinas, whose been Wondolowski’s teammate longer than anyone else on the roster, relished the opportunity to celebrate the historic goal. And for it to come in vintage Wondo fashion made it even more special.
“It’s a perfect way to break the record for Wondo,” Salinas said. “He’s so vigilant around the box. He’s always looking for that opportunity to score a goal, and that one was just perfect. The ball falls, and he’s right where he needs to be and he pokes it in.”
Wondolowski has never forgotten a goal scored or a goal missed in his career. He is keen on visualization techniques as a way to constantly improve his game, and with so much time leading up to Saturday game’s to envision what the record breaker would look like, he naturally went for the dramatic.
“I always pictured hitting a 30-yard blast into the upper 90,” Wondolowski said with a laugh. “I didn’t really picture the goalkeeper dropping it and tapping it in.”
His 146th MLS goal will carry the significance that perhaps the style in which it was scored will lack, but he didn’t give it a moment’s thought, and before long he and the Earthquakes were looking to increase their two goal lead.
The third and fourth goals of the afternoon came in quick succession, as Wondolowski capitalized on some shoddy Fire defending to score in the 74th and 76th minutes. With the Earthquakes leading 4-0, and their hero scoring with ease, supporters throughout the stadium chanted “Wondo!” at the top of their lungs.
It was Wondolowski’s first goals of the season, after 12 appearances dating back to October 2018 without one, the longest stretch of games in which he failed to grace the scoresheet since the start of his Golden Boot campaign in 2010. His last multi-goal game came last June in the Cali Clasico at Stanford University, when he scored twice in a dramatic 3-3 draw with the LA Galaxy. His last hat-trick was back in 2012, the year he set the then single-season record for goals scored with 27.
And Wondo’s historic day may never have happened if not for an upper thigh injury to Danny Hoesen, the team’s regular starter. When Hoesen failed a physical the morning of the game, Wondolowski got the call that he’d be in the starting lineup for the first time in eight games.
“I’m always ready and know my role,” Wondolowski said. “I didn’t think four goals was coming but driving in, I had a special feeling and really thought today could be the day.”
“Before the game, I told him, ‘Let’s go out there and score some goals.’ He did that,” Salinas added. “It’s normal for Wondo. He goes out there and he scores goals.”
Wondolowski was subbed out just as the game entered stoppage time to the cheers of 15,232 at Avaya Stadium. A video message from Donovan graced the scoreboard as the Quakes captain made his triumphant march to the bench, hand raised as a thank you to his most ardent of supporters.
“I just told him to enjoy this moment, and that’s why I subbed him off when there was a little bit of time left,” head coach Matias Almeyda said. “I saw his family, I saw his daughters, and really it’s moving. I congratulate him and I’m happy to be part of his achievement from the outside.”
Whereas the Earthquakes celebrated their talisman at the final whistle, the Fire were left rueing a number of golden scoring opportunities. Nemanja Nikolic was the most egregious in front of net, missing twice in the first half with only goalkeeper Daniel Vega to beat. Aleksandar Katai scored in the 83rd minute to break the shutout, but that was the only bright spot for Chicago all day.
The victory was the Quakes fourth of the season, and fourth in a row at home. With the next two games on the road against Eastern Conference opponents, San Jose will be happy to take all three points against the Fire.