Reunited and it feels so good.
Back in June 2009, Chris Wondolowski was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes from the Houston Dynamo by the only MLS head coach he had ever known, Dominic Kinnear. Now, just over five years later, the former MLS MVP and two-time Golden Boot winner will again play for Kinnear, set to take back the reigns of San Jose after leaving with the relocated franchise following the 2005 season.
And he couldn't be happier.
"Dom can do good things as he's shown," Wondolowski told Center Line Soccer the day after the Earthquakes announced Kinnear's return. "He has a great track record and he knows the league inside and out. He knows what it takes and he knows the kinds of players that can be successful in this league. So I am excited for that."
Wondolowski was the 11th draft pick of the Earthquakes back in 2005, selected in the fourth round of the Supplemental Draft, following a successful but anonymous four year career at Chico State. He quickly impressed then head coach Kinnear with his work ethic and predatory instincts around the goal. Wondolowski played in all 12 Earthquakes Reserve League games that season, scoring a team-high eight goals, and was one of only three of that year's draft selections -- first pick Danny O'Rourke and second pick Kevin Goldthwaite were the others -- to earn first team minutes in his rookie season.
Not even Kinnear could have predicted the career-track Wondolowski would ultimately achieve, but he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for making the U.S. International and World Cup veteran what he is today.
"I'm forever grateful for him bringing me into this league and teaching me a lot of values and morals that have helped me to this day," said Wondolowski, "so I am looking forward to getting back with him."
With the Earthquakes carrying a 13-game winless streak in league play and perilously close to finishing the season with the worst record in franchise history, Wondolowski believes Kinnear is just the man to turn the program around ahead of the 2015 season.
"Yes, I believe so" said Wondolowski. "One thing he promotes that I've always harped on is doing the little things. Being willing to tackle, win 50-50 balls, stay mentally attuned for 90 minutes. We haven't done that and we've been punished for it. It's good that he'll have a whole offseason and preseason to get us ready to go next year."
While it may seem without question that Wondolowski will be back next season, he is quick to point out that there are no untouchables on the current Earthquakes roster, even the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer. Kinnear will evaluate every single player following the conclusion of the season and, along with general manager John Doyle, remake the roster to match his own vision for the team.
"No one is safe," Wondolowski stated as a matter of fact. "Dom could bring in 30 new guys and a whole new coaching staff for next year, so it is really important for us to go out there and show why we do belong, why we should stay here."
That pressure, which will be felt in games against the Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday and Chivas USA next weekend, is something Wondolowski plans to feed off of, but he has a message for everyone on the team as to what they should expect from Kinnear's scrutiny.
"First and foremost, Dom wants guys that try and give absolutely 100% and leave every bit of it out there," revealed Wondolowski. "He doesn't want guys that might be able to pass the ball but then just jog around. That's something that has been stressed onto us, and we will have to bring that in these last two games."
While two games to end the season will not be the complete audition for those players on the bubble to return in 2015, a strong finish will go a long way to ensuring that they do stand a chance to wear the Blue and Black next year. A win or two to close out 2014 would also spare the team earning the label as worst Quakes team ever. For Wondolowski, steering clear of that ignominious fate is all the motivation he requires.
"I can speak for myself and many of the guys in here, we want to win," said Wondolowski, "no matter if it's in practice or in games. This is our job, this is our livelihood."
Even out of the playoff chase and just playing out the string, these Earthquakes will not face a more intense spotlight than they will in their next two games. Win and maybe next year you are in.