Indian Country Today
Chris Wondolowski says he took the scenic route to the heights of professional soccer.
A self-described “late bloomer,” Wondolowski wasn’t tracked for youth state or national teams and received one offer from Division II Chico State to play collegiate soccer.
He credits carrying a chip-on-his-shoulder to what ultimately would result in a storied professional soccer career.
“I definitely believe that my mentality and my drive and my competitiveness, I think is what really kept me around,” Wondolowski said.
(Related: Chris Wondolowksi hangs up his cleats)
After a 17-year career, the Kiowa striker affectionately known as “Wondo” hung up his cleats and traded his forward position for the San Jose Earthquakes for a job in the front office.
Despite officially retiring last November and only being a few months removed from his time on the pitch, he says he misses the friendships and locker room camaraderie the most.
“I loved being out there on the field, I loved you know, scoring goals and winning but it was the friendships and hanging out and the banter in the locker room, I think that I miss the most right now,” he said.
Video: Chris Wondolowski speaks with ICT
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Wondo ended his playing days as Major League Soccer’s most prolific goal scorer, amassing 171 goals over the course of his career.
Other accomplishments include playing for and representing the United States in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, as well as winning two MLS Cup Championships and two Supporters’ Shields; the latter a trophy given to the team with the best regular season record.
Growing up, Wondolowski played a number of sports and his love for soccer was instilled in him by his father who played collegiately at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I loved every sport, whatever season I was in, that was my favorite sport at that time,” Wondolowski said. “But when soccer came around, it seemed to just have a little bit of extra passion for it.”
That passion was exemplified both on game days and during practice. Earthquakes General Manager Chris Leitch told mlssoccer.com that after his final practice, Wondolowski was the last player on the field.
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“Not only was he a great goal scorer, but he never stopped working … He always won fitness tests, even this year, in his 17th season, which is a testament to his continued dedication,” Leitch said.
When asked about his advice to Native youth who see themselves in a similar situation as he once was, he admits it’s a little clichè but still holds true. He said there is more than one path to reach your goals, some straight and direct, others long and windy.
“That's the thing that you always have to remember is there'll be obstacles in the way of your path and of your road but it's how you overcome them, how you get past them and how you continue on continue on that path,” Wondolowski said.
As he transitions into his front office role, Wondolowski hopes to eventually work in player development and the team’s youth academy. He has interest in identifying talent and mentoring players in the 12 to 18 year old age range and helping them on and off the field through what he described as “tough years.”
“It's always tough, especially as a you know, 16, 17, 18-year-old, you've always been top of your class, been able to produce and top athlete and now you're thrown into grown men and professionals and sometimes it takes a little bit of, you know, finding your feet,” Wondolowski said. “That's a position where I'm hoping to really help mentor those guys and bring them along and show them how to be a professional both on and off the field.”
The Earthquakes also celebrate Native American Heritage Month and dedicate a game as Native American Heritage Night, both items Wondolowski will continue to advocate for within the organization.
“I will do anything in my power to help, you know, move our, to move us, move our nation into a better way and any way I can and I love it.”
Wondolowski’s post-playing career appears as if it will continue to be as scenic as his path to the pros.
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