No one has ever argued that San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski was not an optimist. Not after watching the former MLS Supplemental Draft pick preserve through years of sporadic playing time before bursting onto the scene in 2010. Not after he defied his critics to make the U.S. men's national team squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Not after watching his meteoric climb up the all-time MLS goal scoring chart to reach number five entering the 2016 regular season.
Simply put, Wondolowski enjoys a self-confidence that is the bedrock of his success as a forward, a powerful attribute for one the most accomplished players the league has ever known. But following a three year absence from the MLS Cup playoffs, Wondolowski would be excused if he didn't feel a little bit worn down by expectations heading into his twelfth season as a professional. Instead, the Quakes captain is ready to take on the league with more energy than every before.
"I'm very optimistic with the organization this year," said Wondolowski as the Earthquakes prepared for their season opener against the Colorado Rapids this Sunday. "I think we have a great team. I love the guys in the locker room, I love the camaraderie, and I like where we set our goals.
"We had a team meeting this week, and I think all of us have the right mentality going into the season."
Wondolowski's positive nature can be contagious, so to hear the club's MVP declare that this is one of the best Earthquakes squads he's every been a part of is very good news for those looking to see San Jose qualify for the postseason. Wondo then outlined what team goals were decided in that team meeting.
"There are stepping stones along the way for us to make the playoffs," said Wondolowski. "We want to do well in the West, make a high seed, host a playoff game -- that's something that is a huge goal of ours. And then, obviously, MLS Cup, but you know there are a lot of stepping stones."
Last season, after a dismal July and resurgent August, the Earthquakes looked poised to make the postseason with a late run, but they were undone by some uneven performances at home -- dropped points to the Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact were especially missed -- and San Jose finished a disappointing seventh in the Western Conference. With five of eight games at Avaya Stadium to open the 2016 season, the first stepping stones the Quakes will look to tread involve winning in their home venue, starting against the Rapids this Sunday.
"First and foremost, and I know this is a cliche, but we have to take it one game at a time," said Wondolowski. "But we expect to get three points in every game, whether it is on the road or at home. Whenever we step on the field, our mentality is to try and get three points."
Three points is exactly how many they came up short in 2015. A winning mentality from day one of the 2016 season, exemplified by the leadership and optimism of Wondolowski, is precisely what the Earthquakes will need to meet their goals of contending for MLS Cup.