Soccer has been called the “beautiful game.” And few American-born players can claim to have played it more effectively, efficiently, and with more grace over the last two decades than San Jose Earthquakes forward, Major League Soccer’s (MLS) all-time leading goal scorer, and Chico State alumnus Chris Wondolowski.
In light of his remarkable accomplishments during his storied professional career, Wondolowski (Attended, ‘01–‘05) was inducted into the fifth class of the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) Hall of Fame in March, the first Wildcat athlete to receive that recognition. And since the CCAA allows each institution to determine how to honor their inductees, Chico State brought the celebration to San Jose.
More than 150 University alumni, staff, faculty, current and former coaches and teammates, and family members traveled to San Jose’s Avaya Stadium last Saturday night to watch the Earthquakes beat the Colorado Rapids 3-1, and to formally honor Wondolowski during Chico State Alumni Night. Organized by the Chico State Alumni Association, CCAA Commissioner and former Chico State assistant athletic director Mitch Cox presented Wondolowski with a trophy during a post-game ceremony.
“It’s so humbling to see all of these people here supporting me,” Wondolowski said. “Former teammates, coaches, family, friends. I’m so grateful and humbled they’re all here to be part of this.”
The celebration capped a successful night all around. On the field, a cross to a well-positioned Wondolowski in front of the goal during the game’s second minute forced a Colorado own goal for a quick 1-0 Earthquakes lead. San Jose added another score before halftime, then cruised to a 3-1 win, its fourth straight. Wondolowski was replaced in the game’s 60th minute, going to the bench to a rousing ovation from the appreciative Avaya Stadium crowd.
After the game, Wondolowski returned to the field, this time to receive the CCAA Hall of Fame trophy and to thank the dozens of Chico State faithful who took part in the revelry.
“I think I’m more nervous now than when I’m out on the pitch,” Wondolowski joked, speaking in front of the crowd.
Chico State director of athletics Anita Barker, sports information director Luke Reid, and Wondolowski’s Chico State soccer coach Mike O’Malley reminisced about Wondolowski’s electrifying playing days at University Soccer Stadium.
Wondolowski led the Chico State men’s soccer team to its finest season in 2003—the Wildcats finished as the NCAA Division II national runner-up, while individually Wondolowski was named to the Second-Team All-America team. He finished his Chico State career third in all-time goals scored (39) and assists (23), and No. 2 in career points (101).
Wondolowski, a Danville native, is arguably one of the most decorated Division II athletes ever, and one of his sport’s ultimate success stories—emerging from a late-round pick in the 2005 MLS Supplemental Draft out of Chico State to become a US Men’s National Team member and one of MLS’s most feared goal-scorers. And it all began with a less-than-auspicious visit in spring 2001 by O’Malley, who traveled to the Bay Area to watch his prized recruit’s high school play in a tournament.
O’Malley paid close attention to Wondolowski, who’d been touted as a dynamic player, fueled by a tireless work rate and a knack for finishing near the goal.
“During the second game of the day, I’m seeing that he’s a good player, he’s not giving up the ball, and he’s playing really well,” said O’Malley, currently the head women’s soccer coach at Butte College. “But I’m waiting for this dynamic player, and it’s not quite coming out.”
O’Malley shared his concerns about the player’s perceived sluggishness with Wondolowski’s coach after the game.
“I said, ‘I was wondering about that work rate I’ve heard so much about,’” O’Malley recalled.
Wondolowski’s coach said it was his second game of the day. It’s also the other team’s second game, O’Malley retorted.
“Yeah, but not everybody else ran a 4 minute, 15 second mile last night,” the high school coach said. As a full-time member of the De La Salle High School boys’ soccer team, Wondolowski just showed up to run in the school’s track meets. His athleticism and competitive nature transcended the soccer pitch—a revelation which sharpened O’Malley’s focus.
“I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m very interested,’” he said.
Later in the off-season, Wondolowski played with the Chico State soccer team during a spring practice.
“I was able to take this high school kid and put him on this very good college team,” O’Malley said. “He showed very well, he showed me his finishing ability, and his composure among college athletes was just amazing.”
Former Chico State teammate Donny Ribaudo was heading into his senior year when Wondolowski practiced with the Wildcats, and recalled the young player “definitely made a great first impression.”
“You could tell he had the work ethic, but he was also just polished and at another level in front of goal,” said Ribaudo, currently the women’s head soccer coach at Folsom Lake College. “I think all of the veteran players at the time felt like he was a quality player and a player that we needed to invest in as a program.”
When it came time to choose a college, the University of California, Los Angeles offered Wondolowski a full-ride scholarship to run track. However, he leaned toward soccer and chose the only school in the nation to offer him a soccer scholarship: Chico State.
“My time at Chico State was just amazing,” Wondolowski said. “I built lifelong relationships there, and it’s where I really learned how to play the game of soccer at a high level. Every CCAA game was against a skilled team. There are no cupcakes in that conference.”
Now in his 16th season of playing professional soccer, Wondolowski is the beloved face of the San Jose Earthquakes franchise. As a model of consistency (he holds the MLS record for most consecutive seasons scoring 10 or more goals, with nine), he’s also represented his country on the field, scoring 11 goals in 35 international matches.
On May 18, Wondolowski scored four goals to surpass Landon Donovan as MLS’s all-time leading goal scorer. So far this season, he has found the back of the net a team-high nine times, has currently has tallied 153 career goals.
Even with so many professional accomplishments to his credit, Wondolowski remains closely tied with his former teammates and coaches, and possesses an exceptional humility.
“He’s so humble the way he goes about his business,” Ribaudo said. “I think he’s a great example for the youth.”
And from the man who recruited him to Chico State, O’Malley said his pride in Wondolowski comes less from what he’s done, and more in the way he’s done it.
“The guy has so much class, and he represents our community and our University with nothing but passion and class,” O’Malley said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”