By Mike Woitalla
Northern California product Chris Wondolowski, 29, has led MLS in scoring for three straight seasons and is the subject of the YouthSoccerInsider's latest edition of "When They Were Children."
Chris Wondolowski’s father didn’t get upset with him for breaking things kicking around in the house with his brothers. Or scold him for getting chased off golf courses for practicing soccer on the links. That’s because his dad, John, was playing along.
“Mom always wanted us out of the house, because things broke when we were in the house,” says John. “When we were outside we improvised, played everything ... basketball, whiffle ball -- soccer, including the craziest made-up soccer games you could ever play with me and the three boys.”
Most of this happened in their Danville, Calif., home’s backyard, where Chris aimed at street hockey goals, working out the legs that last season tied the MLS record for goals in a season when he struck 27 times for the San Jose Earthquakes. But sometimes they’d head to the golf course.
“We would sneak onto golf courses and see who could hit greens in one or two shots,” John says. “That was our long ball. For our chipping -- to try and hit the pin. We got chased off a fair amount of golf courses. But we were fast and we parked in the right place. … Hopefully the groundskeepers won’t read this.”
Chris played most of his youth soccer at Mustang, with his father was a coach until he turned 14, and with Diablo Valley SC. Chris also excelled at track & field and baseball (winning 1997 PONY League World Series) and played high school baseball until age 16.
“I think it really benefitted Chris that he wasn’t 100 percent immersed in soccer,” says John. “That made him better.”
Soccer, however, was never far away from Chris, who constantly played in the backyard with brothers Stephen and Matthew, who are four and seven years his junior, respectively. Chris also took up coaching at an early age, first assisting his dad with Matthew’s U-11 team.
“I think the coaching contributed to his success as a player,” says John, who coaches at San Ramon Valley High School.
Of his goalscoring prowess, Chris credits lots of shooting practice.
“You have practice until it becomes muscle memory,” says the 29-year-old Wondolowski, “so when you get in a scoring situation you don’t have to think about it. It’s just reactions and instincts.”
He also credits growing up with two athletic brothers.
“We’d play every game possible in the backyard, including soccer,” Chris says. “Ripping shots at each other. Trying to dribble, tackle. A lot of 2-vs-1, always me against the other two because they were younger. That definitely helped and added to the hours of practice with the teams.”
He grew up playing multiple positions – mostly bouncing between forward and midfield.
“I think that’s one of the things that kept me in this league [MLS],” Chris says. “Being able to play in midfield, like I did in Houston.”
He played four years at Division II Chico State before being picked 41st overall in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. Chris scored only seven goals his first six MLS seasons. But his 61 goals in the last three seasons represent the highest scoring three-year spell by a player in MLS’s 17-year history.
We asked John when he noticed that Chris had the potential to earn a livelihood playing soccer …
“About three years ago,” says John, with a hearty chuckle.
Previous editions of the YouthSoccerInsider’s “When They Were Children” series:
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream