The striker is off to a fast start to the MLS season and hopes to rejoin the U.S. national team, which begins World Cup qualifying in June.HARRISON, N.J. -- The ball hung in the air for just a second, but that was all the time a prolific scorer such as Chris Wondolowski needed.
Lunging forward, the 6-foot, 165-pounder directed a diving header into the back of the net for his seventh goal on the young Major League Soccer season. The tally not only earned the San Jose Earthquakes a point in a 2-2 draw Saturday night at Red Bull Arena, it also lifted the striker into a three-way tie atop the MLS Golden Boot standings alongside Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.
It’s a situation Wondolowski has found himself in quite often the past few years. The league’s two-time reigning scoring champion, “Wondo” is aiming to lead the league in goals for the third year in a row, making MLS history in the process.
So what does the 28-year old attribute his quick start to?
“The team,” he told Goal.com after San Jose improved to 4-1-1 on the season. “We’ve been playing really well as of late and creating a lot of opportunities. I’ve been the beneficiary of being in the box at the right time and having guys put the ball in some great, great spots.”
It also doesn’t hurt that he was called up by coach Jurgen Klinsmann for a pair of January friendlies just weeks before the start of the MLS season.
“I think it really got me off on the right foot,” he said. “January was a great experience. It was hard and tough but really got me fit for the season to begin. It’s kind of given me a leg up and I’m trying to run with it.”
And run with it he has; much to the delight of San Jose head coach Frank Yallop.
“He’s just taken off,” he boasted. “Last year was the same. The year before was the same. He’s doing it again now. For us as a club it’s great to have him.”
Equally important to the Earthquakes coach is Wondolowski’s character, which he says lifts the play of everyone around him.
“He’s a great kid as well, which is fantastic,” Yallop continued. “He leads by example and he tries hard. He’s one of the hardest working players, if not the hardest working player, on the team, and I think that says a lot about what he’s all about.”
Another manager who Wondolowski has impressed is Klinsmann, who was hired by the U.S. team in July. When asked about his interaction with the legendary coach, the skilled striker said the two have discussed what it would take for Wondo to become a fixture on the national team.
“We’ve talked here and there, and he’s told me to continue to do what I do,” said Wondolowski, who was also named to Bob Bradley’s Gold Cup roster last summer.
“[Klinsmann] wants me to work hard and stay fit, try to do the right things and keep developing my game. I want to keep improving my hold-up play, when the ball comes in and I need to hold off defenders to keep position. And I want to keep working on accelerating and finishing. If I keep progressing on those two areas I think I can do alright”
It also helps that the U.S. coaching staff keep tabs on him, a sign that he could very well be in their future plans as World Cup qualifiers approach.
“It’s not on a continuing basis, but I’ve heard from (National Team officials) via emails and they’ve been very positive,” Wondolowski said. “I’ll get a phone call or a text here or there, and they’ve been great with that. I’ve heard from the whole coaching staff and I just enjoy that. It’s upbeat when you receive something like that and they are saying, ‘I’m watching you, keep up the great work.’ So it’s great.”
“The hardware I really want to hold up is the MLS Cup,” he said with a big smile, lighting up the room. “That’s the biggest one right now, and I’ll take it over the Golden Boot any time.”
Based on his personal play to start the season as well as his team’s, there’s no reason to believe he can’t hoist up both when all is said and done.