Monday, May 25, 2015

100 Goals ... Wow

     Chris Wondolowski scored his 100th goal in Major League Soccer yesterday and it made his father tremendously proud.  The thing about a Penalty Kick, when your son is taking the Penalty Kick, is that there is a short process … but a long enough process to make a dad completely nervous and crazy.  When Jordan Stewart earned the penalty, I promised myself that I would not jump out of my seat and thrust both arms into the air if Chris scored (basically I promised myself that I would not make a fool of myself).  That promise went into the category labeled unfulfilled unfortunately (sorry people who have to sit next to me).    

     I wish we won the game, but it ended up being about the most enjoyable evening after a home game tie that I have ever had.  Mrs. Wondo got a cake and Chris brought A Pequena Chefona and the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Him (his wife Lindsey) – along with his mother in law and David Bingham for a low-key celebration.  Even though it was low-key it was pretty fun for this blog writer. 

     In sports, numbers of specific outcomes become milestones for careers.  In baseball, 500 home runs or 3000 hits become significant milestones.  In football, 100 touchdowns or 10,000 yards gained become milestones.  In Major League Soccer, at least for goal production, 100 goals is a significant milestone.  As a father who also happens to be a lifelong soccer fan, to see my son’s name in the record books next to Edson Buddle, Taylor Twellman, and Dwayne DeRosario is honestly something that is hard for me to comprehend.  To see him do this for the team that I used to drive him and his brothers to watch when they were young – is beyond comprehension for me. 

     So yesterday I watched my oldest son reach a professional sports milestone that ended up being much more emotional for me than I would have ever imagined.  Maybe spending a few years traveling the country to watch him sit on the bench, warm up, and usually not go into the game ended up making his eventual success a sweeter accomplishment than it otherwise should have been to me.  After all, I was the guy who told Chris when he made the Earthquakes roster his rookie season that he could be Taylor Twellman (it is amazing how skewed a man’s opinion can get when the subject is the capability of his offspring).  To see him reach this milestone with Dominic Kinnear as his coach was really special ... to have Mark Watson in attendance on the opposite bench is bittersweet - but great.  I imagine Frank Yallop might have been watching ... and I hope those three coaches took as much pride as I did in the moment ... they did the navigation, I only did the spectating.  

     The 100 goal milestone for me, and I suspect for Chris, really is a measurement of his longevity in the league.  That is relevant because the most important thing to any professional athlete is to be respected by his teammates and trusted by his coaches.  When you get to hang around a league for enough years to score 100 goals, I believe that is an indicator of a player’s success in achieving that most important thing.  The fact that 96 of those goals have been scored for the Earthquakes is hopefully an indicator that he has earned the respect of his teammates, the trust of his coaches, the endorsement of the team’s management, and the support of the fan base who sacrifice their time and money to support the team.  No man could ask for more than that – as a player or as a father.

     I don’t know what is next, but I will be there watching the future unfold.  There is the next goal that ties him with the best pure forward ever to play in MLS (Taylor Twellman).  Or, coincidentally his 100th goal with the Earthquakes that would tie him with his former teammate, mentor, and friend Dwayne DeRosario.  

    I will finish with some inside family information.  Lindsey keeps Chris down to earth and I think Chris is a pretty humble guy to begin with … together they are a delightfully humble couple.  But I believe that skips a generation.  A Pequena Chefona has seemed to grow quite comfortable with the spotlight (my wife and I simply call her Diva now).  If you ever see The Diva on television or at the stadium with Chris holding her … just know that 50% of that is because she is madly in love with her daddy and 50% of that is because she is madly in love with the spotlight. I am hoping that The Diva's enjoyment of the spotlight will be good positive motivation for continued success.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

99 Goals - Purely from a Father's Perspective

From a father’s standpoint, 99 goals in a professional soccer career creates three issues in your mind that are really hard to get your head around.  First, the fact that your son has played soccer for a living long enough to score that many goals.  That was my dream for me, and just about any boy’s dream for himself, and now a dream come true for Chris.  Truly a blessed career.  Second is the fact that the 100 goal milestone is now 1 minute, 1 game, 1000 minutes, 20 games, or even a season away.  In fact, it could never happen – this same guy who is now a Top Ten MLS Goal Scorer of All Time – netted only 2 in his first four seasons that included 8 starts and more than 600 minutes of playing time. 

     But, as the best pure-forward that every played in Major League Soccer (Taylor Twellman) says from time-to-time … ‘right place, right time’.  It would appear that there actually is something to ‘being in the right place at the right time’ and doing it 99 times is probably more than a collection of lucky moments. 

     I should point out that 99 goals do not happen by one person being in the right place at the right time … you need a coaching staff and 27 other guys on the team to make that particular place and time a goal-scoring opportunity.

     Following my son for 11 seasons has been a magical experience.  When I think about the fact that he started by signing a contract that paid him less than $1000 per month, there is something to be said for following your passion and pursuing your dream.

     This has surpassed the wildest father’s dream that could have ever been dreamt.  I saw two of my sons playing together with the Houston Dynamo (of course that was early Sunday mornings in Reserve Games … but pretty cool nonetheless).  I have been able to see him play in person in just about every MLS City over the past 11 years.  I went from (pre-soccer) not liking Houston to absolutely loving the city and the people (that alone was something that I would have never predicted).  My favorite moment is a night in Charleston when a goal in stoppage time tied the game for the Houston Dynamo against the Charleston Battery in an Open Cup Game.  That goal was scored by my son Stephen and his brother Chris was the first to jump on top of him in celebration.  That’s a pretty cool dad experience. 

     When Chris was drafted by the Earthquakes ... he found out when he was walking on campus at college in between classes.  He found out from a long-time friend who had also been drafted by the Earthquakes.  He drove home from college, began to try-out, ended up getting a roster spot, and started his career.  Only to have his world change significantly when in December after his first season in San Jose he was told that he could move to Houston if he wanted to – and try to gain a roster spot the next season in Houston.  So he did … but … without the best thing that ever happened to him – his future wife Lindsey stayed in California to get additional education and teaching credentials.

     Fortunately for Chris, Lindsey eventually followed him to Houston and they got married.  They bought a nice home near Houston and were establishing a life together.  Chris’ brother Stephen was signed by the Houston Dynamo and the boys were able to have what is probably a brothers’ dream of playing professionally together.  And then … Chris was traded to San Jose.  They had the house in Houston – Lindsey had her career there – and now it was back to California. 

     NOBODY on planet earth would have ever written the next chapter in the young Wondo Family’s lives.  Chris thrived – Lindsey moved back to California – and eventually they were able to settle into their own home in the East Bay and create Emersyn.  (Add to that – Stephen now coaches for the San Jose Earthquakes Academy … and things have worked out pretty well). 

     So … this dad that used to fly to Houston to watch Chris play in Sunday Morning Reserve Games – now gets to sit at the most beautiful soccer stadium I have ever seen – with my granddaughter on my lap – and watch Chris score his 99th goal right in front of us. 

     Obviously I hope he gets to 100 soon … but what a fool I would be to not simply relish 99 goals and what those have meant in the twists and turns in his life.  And how great it has been to have a pretty good seat to all of it.