25 years ago, the first-ever MLS game was paving the way for one of the all-time greats decades later.
On April 6, 1996, the San Jose Clash hosted D.C. United in the first game in league history, at Spartan Stadium. In the stands that day was 13-year-old Chris Wondolowski, just a local kid that day, before he went onto glory for the San Jose Earthquakes himself.
The San Jose crowd went home happy on the day, as Eric Wynalda scored a late winner for a 1-0 Clash victory.
Wynalda himself wasn’t aware until recently that Wondolowski was at the game.
“I just found out this week or last week that Chris Wondolowski was a 13-year-old boy and very impressionable young man watching that game, and that just blows me away that we were making an impression on the next generation, and we didn’t even know it at the time,” Wynalda said during a conference call with reporters to commemorate the debut game last week.
Wondolowski went on to college at Chico State, of course, before entering MLS in 2005 with his hometown Quakes. Moving to Houston when the club moved there, Wondo returned to San Jose in 2009, and completely remade his career. In 2010, he scored 18 goals in the league campaign (previously his season high had been three goals), initiating a 10-year run where he scored double-digit goals, which culminated in breaking the all-time MLS scoring record last season. The league’s top scorer now sits on 159 regular-season goals to date in his career.
Banter with @TaylorTwellman returns as he looks back at the inaugural @MLS match, which took place on this date in 1996.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 6, 2020
He’ll be joined by @EricWynalda, @JeffAgoos and @ChrisWondo.https://t.co/oLZpBOtwXR
Wondo spoke about that first game and his career on ESPN’s “Banter” show with Taylor Twellman this week.
“I was able to be at that game and yeah, it was fun,” Wondolowski said with a smile.
“I remember Wynalda scoring a great goal. I actually remembered Paul Holocher there, because he ended up being a coach later, he coached my brother at UC Santa Cruz and also with the [Earthquakes] academy. I was a big Wynalda fan, he had some really cool Reebok Sidewinder [cleats] on, it was good,” he added.
When asked about moving forward to the present, as the league’s goal king, Wondolowski seemed a bit stunned himself he’s gotten to this point.
“It’s a bit crazy. I would not have expected it then, still don’t expect it or even think about it. It’s pretty cool, it’s been a great ride along the way, too.”
Twellman asked him what he is most proud of in his career.
“I would say just how much fun I had,” Wondolowski said. “I think from day one and even the times I was struggling, it was fun, it was enjoyable and even now, dying to be back there and it’s crazy how much things can emphasize your love for the game.”
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