Even when you're the reigning Major League Soccer MVP, you never forget the bad calls—no matter how long ago they happened.
San Jose Earthquakes and United States national team striker Chris Wondolowski, who was named MLS MVP after a stellar 2012 season, spoke with B/R world football lead writer Michael Cummings by phone on Monday.
As he continued preparations ahead of the 2013 regular season, which begins March 3 for San Jose, Wondolowski spoke about personal accolades (and there were many in 2012), the playoffs, his chances with the national team, turning 30 and one very bad call he remembers from his high school days.
So what happened to make Wondo remember the incident more than a decade later? Read on to find out.
Bleacher Report: 2012 was such a successful year for you. What, if anything, disappointed you about the season?
Chris Wondolowski: How we ended the year. You always want to raise the MLS Cup championship and you play to win championships. All the personal accolades are very special and I take great honor in them, but to be honest I’d trade them all in for a championship. So that’s the big goal for this year.
BR: I thought you might say something about that. Of course, you have experience on championship teams (Wondolowski was a member of the Houston Dynamo's championship teams in 2006 and 2007). Do you think the ingredients are there with this San Jose team to win a championship?
CW: Absolutely, I definitely think that it has the ingredients to win a championship. One of the most important things that we bring as a club is that we work together and everyone does their jobs to the fullest. If we have everyone buying in 100 percent and doing their job to the fullest and just trying to get better, we also have enough talent I believe that we can break teams down as well. So I think it’s a great recipe for a championship and for a solid year in general.
BR: Last season San Jose won the Supporters’ Shield but went out of the playoffs early. What did you learn from that experience, and how do you take that and move onto this season?
CW: You have to continue to play your game but at the same time be smart. Throughout the whole season we did a great job, and that’s one of the goals we have to remember. It’s such a long season and there are so many ups and downs that you have to really make sure that your valleys aren’t too low and that you stay even keel.
But once you get into the playoffs, it’s a whole other atmosphere, and I think that we learned a lot from it. We learned our lesson and we’re a lot better for it, and hopefully we can improve it this playoffs.
We got out of our game a little bit for about 20 minutes (against the Los Angeles Galaxy), and we got punished and three goals were scored on us. And that’s a big hole to climb out of.
BR: You just had a big birthday (Wondolowski turned 30 on Jan. 28). Are you approaching anything differently now that you’re in your 30s?
CW: Yeah, I think to be honest it really is just a mindset, and I think I’m taking it more serious, especially off the field. I know, especially in younger years I could eat anything and do anything and felt like I’d be OK. But now I’m going to In and Out or Burger King and I feel it the next day.
I think now I’m just taking more responsibility both on and off the field, and I think that’s one of the things that’s going to help me.
BR: You were part of the U.S. camp in January and played against Canada in Houston. How would you rate the camp, and what did you get out of the experience?
CW: It was a good camp for all the guys. We had a very tough three-and-a-half weeks. There’s so much that goes into it.
For me personally, it was a great opportunity for 25-odd days to show what you have in front of one of the best coaching staffs in the world. So it’s a great learning tool, and I was also able to learn from some of the great strikers in there, Eddie Johnson and Will Bruin and Juan Agudelo.
They all bring a little something different to the table, and to have those guys day-in and day-out and to see what they can do, I think I was able to pick up some things and incorporate them into my game as well.
BR: Unfortunately, that first goal didn't come against Canada. Do you think it's just a case of scoring that first goal with the national team? And do you think you'll have another opportunity in World Cup qualifying for the Gold Cup?
CW: Being a striker is a funny thing because sometimes they come in clumps, and sometimes you can’t buy a bucket. I have a lot of confidence in my ability, but one is for sure, that I’ll have to do well this year if I want another chance.
I know that I need to continue to work hard and grow as a player. So if I do that, I feel that I can get another opportunity, and when I do, I do need to make the most of it, whether it is the Gold Cup or a World Cup qualifier or a friendly. I’m just looking for another opportunity and hoping to make the most of it.
BR: As far as I can tell, you've never received a red card in MLS. Is that true? Have you had a red card at any level?
CW: That is true. I have received a red card in a reserve game when I was at Houston, and then high school was the last one. So I’ve had two red cards in my playing career.
BR: What happened in the high school game?
CW: To be honest, it was a bit of a bad call. It was a ball in the air, and I went to go trap it, and the guy kinda put his head down and went for a diving header. And so I think the ref thought I kicked the guy in the face even though I really did just trap it. So I got a straight red for that.
BR: Back to MLS. In 2010 and 2011, you scored 18 and 16 goals. Then 2012 was another level entirely. What was the difference?
CW: Definitely just the team play. We had so many weapons, and having (Steven) Lenhart and (Alan) Gordon up top, who are just great targets and great forwards but take so much attention away from me that it allows me to be in the free role and pick and choose my spots where I can be dangerous.
Also having so many great guys wide on the wings, we were able to get service in the box—Marvin Chavez and Shea Salinas and Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour had great years as well. That whole combination helped me as a player.
BR: You were marked by John Terry in the MLS All-Star game last year, and he said it was a nightmare marking you. How does playing against someone the stature of John Terry help you? And did it mean anything to you that he said what he did?
Absolutely, he’s one of the greatest to play that position and has a wonderful pedigree winning the Champions League and EPL titles and being capped numerous times by the England national team. So to have someone of his stature tell you that your movement is making a nightmare for him, it’s one of the best compliments you can receive. And just the way he went about it—it wasn’t forced. He kinda stopped me off to say it.
BR: You played in San Jose early in your career. Now you're back, having success and you just turned 30. Is this your last stop, or is there something else in store for you?
CW: I’m very open to anything, and I absolutely love San Jose. It’s basically home for me, and so I get to see a lot of friends and family. But I am very open to anything that comes my way, especially if it happens to be in Europe or something of that nature.
I am always open ears and like to keep my options open. But at the same time I’m a pretty happy guy right now, and so it would have to be a pretty nice deal for anything to work out.