For much of the season, Chris Wondolowskihas been shadowed by the specter of Roy Lassiter, whose 27-goal campaign in the inaugural 1996 MLS season has occasionally been threatened but never matched.
Wondolowski has four games to net the five goals he needs to tie Lassiter, who finished his MLS career with 88 goals. Yet Wondolowski's immediate target is Raul Diaz Arce, who scored goals consistently in MLS for several teams but retired in 2001 with "only" 82 regular-season goals and eight more in the playoffs.
"Yeah, he probably does get overlooked a little bit with regard to our team because of Jaime [Moreno] and Marco [Etcheverry]," says D.C. United president Kevin Payne, whose team employed Diaz Arce for the first two MLS seasons. "He only played for our team the first two years and wasn't on our team in those championship years of 1998 and 1999," during which United won a Concacaf title, the Inter-American Cup as well as a third MLS Cup. "But he went on and scored a lot of goals for New England and had a pretty good goalscoring record with Tampa Bay."
Diaz Arce's seasonal high of 23 goals (also in 1996) is one more than Wondo's current total and together they share the mark of most regular-season goals scored in three consecutive seasons: 56, one more than the 55 Lassiter compiled in the first three MLS seasons.
Though they played in different eras and with different styles Payne does see some common elements.
"He was little bit like Chris, too, in that you'd kind of be watching the game and you think he's not doing much and at the end of the game you realize he had a goal and a couple of other chances," says Payne of the former El Salvador international. "Then at the end of the season he had a lot of goals. Chris probably goes to the first post better, Raul was a lot better in the air. He was a great header and absolutely fearless. Chris is probably a better shooter than Raul and better in the box. But they did have some similarities, like having a pretty good idea of what their job is."
Like many goalscorers, Diaz Arce jumped around. From D.C. United he went to New England, where he scored 18 goals in 1998 to hit that three-year mark of 56. He managed just four goals in 18 games for San Jose during the 1999 season but after a trade to Tampa Bay notched nine more in just 13 games. He changed teams several more times before leaving MLS after the 2001 season.
Above Wondolowski on the single-season scoring ladder that is topped by Lassiter are Mamadou Diallo and Stern John (26), Carlos Ruiz (24), and Diaz Arce and Taylor Twellman (23). The four-year mark is 73, which Lassiter attained by hitting 18 goals in 1999 after those 55 he collected in the first three seasons.
Along with great feet and balance and the necessary toughness to withstand punishment, Wondolowski has that knack of anticipating where the ball is going and what to do when he reaches it. He has scored his 22 goals by putting 44 of his 106 shots on goal.
"He's not flashy," says Payne, "and that's one of the reasons he gets a lot of these goals were you say, 'The ball just popped out and he was in the right place at the right time.' Well, part of the reason for that is when it does pop out he's able to take advantage of it.
"A lot of other forwards will scuff those shots or the ball will shoot by them
because they can't get their feet arranged. Wondolowski has very good balance, he has good anticipation, and he gets a lot of shots on frame. He doesn't squander a lot of opportunities. He doesn't need 10 chances to score one goal."