By Mike Rice.
One more year! Chris Wondolowski postponed his retirement one more time last year and will return in 2021 to lead the line for San Jose Earthquakes.
The 38-year-old all-time leading Major League Soccer goalscorer bagged eight in 24 matches in 2020 and had previously stated that it would be his last season.
With the issues around the coronavirus pandemic and behind-closed-doors games in 2020, Wondolowski now aims to have a successful 2021 send-off in front of his admiring fans at Earthquakes Stadium.
Wondolowski was drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 Supplemental Draft by San Jose before moving to Houston Dynamo in 2006 when the whole side relocated to Houston.
In 2008 San Jose Earthquakes returned to the league and Wondolowski was traded back to the west coast in exchange for Cam Weaver in 2009.
Since 2009, Wondolowski has played 342 times for San Jose Earthquakes netting 162 goals. In this time he also made 35 appearances for the United States scoring 11 goals for his country.
2010 was Wondolowski’s breakout season, finishing MLS top scorer with 18 goals in 26 matches. On May 24, 2015, he became the ninth player to achieve 100 goals in MLS.
The following season he achieved is seventh consecutive season scoring 10 or more goals making him the only person in MLS history to accomplish this in over five seasons, he has since increased this to 10 consecutive seasons with 10 or more goals, with his streak coming to an end in 2020.
But what can we expect from Wondolowski in 2021? He is one of four registered strikers in the side, with Andy Rios (32 years old), Cade Cowell (17) and recent signing from USL Championship side Reno 1868, Benji Kikanovic (21).
Earthquakes head coach Matías Almeyda often sets his side up in a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 formation. The lone striker in this system will at times be isolated up against opposition defenders, though San Jose look to make the pitch as big as possible to create space for each other to receive. Wide forwards are kept as wide as possible to create 1v1 opportunities in these areas.
Christian Espinoza has been a key player from the right and a massive part of San Jose’s attacking success.
With eight assists in 2020 and 11 in 2019, Wondolowski knows the service will be there, and Espinoza knows there is quality in the box to find.
As well as Espinoza, Almeyda can now call on Eduardo Lopez who arrives on loan from Chivas for the season. With Andy Rios, Carlos Fierro and Shea Salinas there is plenty of depth in the wide areas to continue to cause opponents problems. In 2020 only three sides in the Eastern Conference scored more than San Jose, though, with 51 goals against, no one in MLS conceded more.
As well as the wide forwards/midfielders providing attacking options, Almeyda has his full-backs contributing as well. When the ball is played wide, Espinoza is able to cut inside with the ball leaving the right-back free to overlap and provide width.
Strikers in a San Jose side will thrive on the number of crossing opportunities their side creates. Wondolowski’s movement in the box will continue to trouble defenders while he looks to add to his already incredible goal tally.
With this style of attacking play, Wondolowski thrives with his abilities as a target in the box, though this is not what the other strikers in the side can offer quite as well. What San Jose has lacked is a focal point and consistent goal scorer to challenge Wondolowski for his place.
Tutoring Future Stars
Andy Rios managed four goals in 2020 and behind him, they have a young, exciting talent that needs time to develop. Cade Cowell has shown glimpses of his potential and Earthquakes fans will be excited to see more of him in 2021.
Especially towards the end of last season, Almeyda also changed formation at times to more of a 4-4-2 to include Cowell alongside or behind Wondolowski.
Changing to a 4-4-2 has altered the movements of the wide midfielders who will often not press quite as high out of possession. With strikers like Cowell being able to move across the width of the pitch, they are responsible for closing down the defenders with Wondolowski often playing more centrally throughout.
As much as Almeyda may have had to work on how his side plays out of possession, this doesn’t affect too much how they play in possession. Transitions are quick and there is plenty of pace in their wide players to get forward quickly and contribute to attacks.
With a lack of experience in the centre forward position, it seems clear Wondolowski will have a big part to play in his final season.
His experience and undoubted quality will be invaluable to Cowell, and Kikanovic will learn from one of the greats. With more than 20 years age difference between him and Cowell, Wondolowski has already praised his new strike partner, another hard-working forward who will look to help the Earthquakes improve on last season’s performance and reach the playoffs in 2021.
With the talent around him, Wondolowski can see the opportunity to have a successful farewell season, hoping to taste glory once more with his beloved Earthquakes.
Almeyda already knows how hard it will be to replace a club icon, and work will be going on behind the scenes to identify a new centre forward. Until then, we have one more season to enjoy a true MLS legend.