This Sunday marked an ending that Quakes fans will never forget, as club icon and local hero Chris Wondolowski announced his retirement. Marking an end to the career of the club’s greatest player and one of the league’s most iconic members. Wondo will forever be remembered as the local hero who came out of nowhere to forge a path in the MLS that no one will ever come close to following.
There are a litany of Bay Area sporting legends who have made their marks on their sports and the area as a whole. From Steph Curry’s game breaking abilities to Barry Bonds’ absolute domination, Wondo belongs amongst those icons due to his incredible career and what it meant to the fans.
The Earthquakes, like Curry’s Warriors, were going through a time of rebuilding when Wondo joined the team and he would help transform the team, while becoming the club’s best player. Wondo joined the team in 2009, one year after the club moved back to San Jose, with the team lacking their own stadium and any relevance in the MLS landscape. In the following 12 years, Wondo’s contribution to the team’s successes would help the club land a modern soccer specific stadium.
Just like Curry and Bonds, Wondo remained steadfast in the way he played his game and stuck to his skills throughout his career. His goal scoring and poaching abilities have always been the envy of every striker that has passed through the MLS. This innate ability to score goals out of any situation is what led him to become the league’s top scorer with 171 goals in his 16 years with the club.
What made Wondo different was his connection to the bay area and the fanbase, with him forming such a strong connection to the fans. From the Bay Area, Wondo would be able to play for almost his whole career with the team he supported. His connection to the fans is truly unique with the best example being the game that he spent watching with the team’s ultras.
Danville is a smaller city in the east Bay and less than an hour from San Jose with a rich soccer culture, making it the perfect backdrop for Wondo to hail from. Playing for the local Mustang soccer club and the famous De La Salle High School, Wondo would quickly become a star at the local level.
Despite his accomplishments at the youth level, Wondo received no division 1 scholarships for soccer but did receive one from Chico State, a division 2 school in Northern California. In his four years at Chico, Wondo scored 39 goals and would later be recognized as one of the greatest division 2 college soccer players. After graduating, he would join the Chico Rooks, a lower division soccer team and would continue his development.
Following a single season with the Rooks, Wondo would be drafted by his local Earthquakes in the fourth round in 2005 and would make 2 MLS appearances in his first season. The Earthquakes would be moved to Houston, becoming the Houston Dynamo and Wondo would follow the team in their new adventure.
Wondo’s time in Houston would be filled with team success but little personal success, as he spent the majority of his time in the reserve league. The Dynamo won two MLS cups but Wondo would only score 4 goals in 37 games across his 3 and a half seasons there. In the MLS reserve league, Wondo would shine and his reputation would grow but he was still seen as a backup striker in the MLS.
In June 2009, a move would go through that would forever change not only Wondo’s career but both the league and Quakes’ history. Wondo would get traded for Cam Weaver, a backup forward, in a little regarded trade at the time but this would become the greatest trade in league history.
After his trade, Wondo would hit the ground running for the recently returned Quakes and in his second season, he would score 18 goals. In that season, he would win his first MLS golden boot and make the league’s best 11, getting called up to the national team for the first time. The 2011 season would show that Wondo was not a flash in the pan and he would make his first all star team.
However, it was the 2012 season that would put Wondo in the history books and bring the team their first trophy since their return to San Jose. That season would be one of the club’s best seasons ever and being led by a local hero, it made it even more special.
The 2012 Earthquakes team would be one of the best sides in league history, becoming known for their late game heroics and gritty gameplay. Wondo scored 27 goals that season, which was at the time the most scored in a single season by a single player, and it would deliver him the league’s MVP award. While the team failed to win the MLS cup, Wondo’s performance helped the team win the Supporters’ Shield.
In the years following that historic 2012 season, the Quakes would never reach those levels again but his production would not stop, as he would score 10 goals per season for the next 7 years. Wondo continued to have individual success but the team continued to struggle and he would only ever reach the playoffs two more times in his career.
The final few years of his career would be a weird period of time for the club, as they failed to prepare for the years that would come after his retirement. While he would still perform great for the club, it felt that the club relied too heavily on the aging Wondo. When he finally retired this weekend, it would be a bittersweet moment for all involved, as the future for the club seems more turbulent without its eternal captain.
Bau Daigh, Wondo’s tribal name, means “warrior coming over the hill” and hails from his mother’s Kiowa tribe and fits Wondo to a T. A warrior from the East Bay foothills would fight for his local team and deliver success to the fanbase that never had such a player.
His 13 combined years at the club reflected his warrior mentality, with many last minute winning goals over hated rivals. These incredible moments, litter his career and many highlight reels can be made up of only these moments. In addition, his longevity at the highest level further made the legend that the club and league never had.
The captain’s connection to the fanbase is something that is so difficult to replicate, as the connection between Wondo and the Quake’s fans was deep and strong. Quakes fans have so many memories of their eternal captain rushing to the sidelines to celebrate another goal with the fans and his teammates. It was a connection between a local fan and his fellow fans, as they always wanted the best for the club.
There will likely never be a player in MLS history that will have a career like Wondo, and there will likely not be many Bay Area athletes that will have the legacy that Wondo had. There is nothing left but to thank Wondo for the memories he gave to fans and remember him as the local hero who lived his dream with his hometown club.
Well, there is one more thing left to do and this is aimed towards the Quakes’ management. Build Wondo his statue.
Featured Image: San Jose Earthquakes