SAN JOSE, Calif. — Every Major League Soccer off-season brings with it plenty of concerns. For the San Jose Earthquakes, whose campaign ended with a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on the last day of the season, the biggest question of all centered around whether their captain and leading goal scorer, Chris Wondolowski, would play another game for the Black and Blue.
Wondolowski surpassed the all-time MLS scoring record with a four-goal performance in May and finished the season with 15 goals. It’s the tenth straight year he’s tallied in double digits in goals, but the record-holder is out of a contract with San Jose, and there had been no apparent movement to keep the 36-year-old in Quakes colors for the 2020 season.
Turns out, there has been some action behind the scenes — as revealed by head coach Matias Almeyda during his end of season news conference — to sign Wondolowski to a new contract.
“I am grateful to Wondolowski for scoring those 15 goals and breaking the record,” Almeyda said. “He already has an offer so that he’s able to retire in San Jose.”
The forward just completed his best statistical season since 2012, the year he matched the then MLS single-season record of 27 goals and helped the Earthquakes earn the club’s second Supporters Shield. Following the loss in Portland, Wondo himself said that he will mull over a the decision to keep his MLS career going and announce his intentions soon.
“This is a great group of guys,” Wondolowski said. “I enjoy going in there every day. I enjoy practice. I do need to reflect on this year and then decide my future; talk with the family, talk with the wife and decide where to go from here. At the same time, I had an absolute blast, so I wouldn’t mind it.”
Almeyda, who had been rumored to be leaving his position as Quakes head coach after one season in charge before publicly proclaiming that his time in San Jose was not over, sees Wondolowski as a valuable member of the team, even though the forward will be 37 years old when the 2020 season begins next March. He knows the veteran’s presence on and off the field is vital to the team’s continued development, and he wants him to return.
“This offer doesn’t guarantee that he will be a starter, though no players are guaranteed to be starters next year,” Almeyda said. “But he has shown why he has been a starter in so many games. And he was able to perform as a great professional even when he wasn’t starting. It made us all very happy that he was able to accomplish that record.”
Wondolowski finished the season tied for fifth-best in scoring in MLS, and he extended his career mark to 159 goals, leaving the previous record holder, Landon Donovan, in second with 145. The Earthquakes, who suffered through their worst season in franchise history in 2018, winning only 4 games total, improved to 13 wins in 2019 and came within a game of qualifying for the playoffs.
Wondolowski is San Jose soccer and has been the heart and soul of the Quakes for the past decade.
His previous contract, which paid him $800,000 per year according to figures released by the MLS Players Association, gave him Designated Player status. He was one of two DPs on the team, with Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili the other, and his new contract offer is below the threshold to earn that label. Almeyda and general manager Jesse Fioranelli will want to, in addition to bringing Wondolowski back, strengthen the roster however possible, including, possibly through Designated Player contracts.
“Obviously, whenever you have the opportunity to reinforce the team, I don’t look to reinforce that position with just a name but rather with a player that can help us,” Almeyda said. “But still we have to look for this and we haven’t diagrammed for what’s to come.”
The plan may not be for Wondolowski to be the focus of the Earthquakes’ offense in 2020, but he is certain to have a big impact on the team in whatever capacity he is asked to contribute. Negotiations on the details of a deal will continue, as both player and team seem headed to the same destination. And when a finalized contract offer is on the table, all that’ll be left to do is for Wondo to put pen to paper.