If everything goes as planned, the 2020 San Jose Earthquakes campaign, which begins Saturday afternoon at home, will be Chris Wondolowski’s final season. Last year, the Danville native, then 36, became Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer, proving that perseverance and resolve will pay off in the end if one works hard and never gives up.
Going into that game last year, Wondo started the match with 144 career goals, only needing one more to tie the record; yet he scored four. After the triumph, congratulatory videos came over the wire from Giants legend Barry Bonds, the Sharks’ Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, as well as FIFA Women’s World Cup stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, all testifying to Wondo’s well-deserved glory.
As the undisputed team leader on and off the field, Wondo’s journey exemplifies everything the sporting experience is supposed to be. Since Wondo is all about the fans, I crowd-sourced a bunch of them for their favorite memories, edited for clarity.
Season ticket holder Stuart Berman remembers how Wondo always stopped by the supporters group section, postgame, during the days at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“[He’d] lead the cheer and then walk all the way around the stadium, signing autographs, taking pictures, shaking hands,” Berman recalls. “For the best player on the team and maybe in the league to spend an hour connecting with fans always really stood out for me. And he did it year after year. Not to mention he was practically in tears when he came over after the 2012 playoff loss and apologized to us for losing. First, after a loss like that, to come over in the first place when he was so thoroughly gutted, was amazing. And then, for him to apologize to us? So not necessary, and yet so moving.”
John Hanhauser mentions his octogenarian father, who has attended Earthquakes games since the ’70s and still sits in the front row.”Wondo is his favorite player,” Hanhauser says. “Before every game we have to be there early to watch them come out for warm ups, because Wondo will run out and either wave or talk briefly to my dad and he becomes a little kid again, a real fan. It’s made Wondo my favorite player, too.”
Because Wondo attended college to pursue a degree in special education, Allison Reed remembers a specific aautograph signing at Wells Fargo.
“It was a three-hour car ride back,” Reed says. “I let my autistic son get a breather in the parking lot before heading back. Wondo was leaving, yet stopped to make sure all was well. I explained the situation, and he let me know how he went to school to teach special ed, and if we needed anything, let him know. I’ll never forget it.”
Virgina Gelczis follows up with a tidbit about her daughter Molly, a big Quakes fan, who fell ill during her freshman year in college and was hospitalized in Washington for nine daysthree of which were spent in intensive care. A friend filmed Wondo sending a message of encouragement.
“It was the most thrilling and uplifting gesture,” Gelczis says. “And she kept playing it over and over. Our family has always loved Wondo, but that moment cemented him as more than a sports great on the field. It showed he was a caring human, willing to give some of his time to bolster the spirits of one of his fans.”
And then we have the Ultras, not always safe for nuclear families, but easily the loudest and most authentic Earthquakes supporters group, at least in the European or South American sense of the concept. Towards the end of last season, nothing displayed the Wondo spirit more than one particular moment:
Wondo was ejected from a match and had to sit out the following game. Instead of watching from the players box like all others would have done, he joined the Ultras in the stands for the entire game, cheering and even ripping off his own shirt when the team scored. No other pro athlete, in any sport, would have sat in the stands with the supporters group like that. After this season, Wondo will leave the field as a true captain. And a true fan.