In San Jose, Chris Wondolowski is a beloved icon and deservedly so, the San Jose Earthquakes icon the MLS all-time leading scorer, a local guy who beat the odds to both make it to the pros and to thrive there.
But in the rest of the country...there are definitely Wondo admirers, but there are a lot of haters, too.
A lot of the hate stems from one moment in his long and successful career, when he had a chance to give the United States the lead in the dying minutes against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup Round of 16 and shot the ball well over the goal. In the end, Belgium won and the U.S. had to settle for going home with a decent, if not spectacular, showing at the World Cup.
The miss haunted Wondolowski for a long time. So what would have happened if Wondo had scored on that play? We’re asking as part of SB Nation’s “What if?” week.
Let’s walk through the steps. In my opinion, some things would have changed, others not so much.
Quarterfinals and bust
Frankly, soccer is a sport where anything can happen in 90 (or 120) minutes, so had the Americans progressed to the quarterfinals, sure, they could have beaten their next opponent. But their next opponent was Argentina, who were the losing finalists in this World Cup, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say the U.S. probably wouldn’t have beaten Lionel Messi & Co. Two years later the U.S. and Argentina met in the Copa America Centenario semifinals, hosted in the United States, and the South Americans crushed the hosts 4-0.
Again, you never know, but I don’t think the odds would have been remotely in the USMNT’s favor to get beyond the quarterfinals. That in itself would have been a good accomplishment, but don’t fool yourself that they would have beaten Germany in the final, seems like a bridge too far.
I highly doubt Wondo would have given this much of a thought, but had he scored the dramatic winning goal for the U.S. in a knockout game at the World Cup, he’d probably have seen a real bump in celebrity status and perhaps also in financial terms. He definitely would have done the late night talk show circuit, get some new endorsements, perhaps become a household name. “Wondo” has a nice ring to it, he’s an affable everyman, you can connect the dots pretty easily to see him getting a higher profile. Basically, he’d probably briefly eclipse Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan as “players your non-soccer fan relatives have heard of” in the national imagination.
On the field
If I’m being honest, I don’t think Wondo’s stats in MLS would be significantly different had he scored that goal or not. He might have gotten more caps for the USMNT, which might have meant he miss more MLS games, maybe that makes a difference for the scoring record.
But even in 2014, he scored 14 goals in 26 regular-season games, even with missing time for the World Cup. That number isn’t substantially different than the surrounding seasons — Wondo’s consistency since 2010 has been his hallmark. He admitted he had slumped and suffered a crisis of confidence after that miss.
“It will always be a negative in that I missed that opportunity, it will always hurt, it will always sting a bit. But I’m using it as a tool for motivation now,” he said later in 2014 to ESPN, and I think that’s the seed of how it hasn’t actually affected him much on the field.
Regardless of whether he’s on a scoring streak or in a slump, Wondolowski gives the same energy every game. He’s a scrapper, and while there’s plenty of talent to back it up, he doesn’t rely on his gifts to carry him through, he will devote the same amount of work to every game regardless of how his form is at the moment.
So I don’t really think Wondo’s stats would be different, incredibly. If he’s playing great and scoring winners, he scores. If he’s struggling, he still finds a way to score. Same as it ever was.
In the fans’ assessments
Again, in San Jose Wondo is a talisman and a legend. And there are plenty who respect what he’s done around the league.
But the many haters who love to taunt Wondo with the miss, well, they’d be singing his praises. Maybe we don’t need to worry about them, if they’re so fickle. But the tune would be totally different if the underdog had scored the winner for the USMNT in a World Cup knockout game. And the knock-on effect of that is that Chris Wondolowski would get more of the credit he justly deserves for being a great player.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.