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Chico, not just the university, has a history of nurturing some notable sports figures. These figures include the owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis, an alumnus of Chico State, to Super Bowl winning and two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who was born and raised in Chico.
While both these men have a legacy in football, none can say they left a legacy for their country as the Major League Soccer San Jose Earthquakes’ forward Christopher Elliot Wondolowski has for the United States. Wondolowski has been a part of the USA Men’s National team since 2011, having made 31 appearances. He was even a part of the 2014 World Cup team that made it to the round of 16.
Wondolowski, the former Supplemental Draft pick, currently sits on the brink of breaking the all-time MLS goals record, he is at 144 goals, needing only one to tie the record and two to break it. Having finished the 2018 season with 10 goals, it’s only a matter of time for the man nicknamed “Wondo” to sit alone at the top of that list come the 2019 season.
Wondolowski played for the Wildcats from 2001-2004, having received no other scholarship offers for soccer, but a few for Division III track. He matured under head coach Mike O’Malley, the current College of Business Advancement Associate at Chico State, into a star with 39 goals and 23 assists in 84 games.
He also helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA Division II championship match in 2003 with a 21-5-1 season. That Chico State offense set a single-season record at the time with 63 goals, while Wondo earned a second-team All-American selection and lead the team with 12 goals.
When Wondolowski came to Chico state he instantly fell in love and knew it was the place for him. He most enjoyed the “family environment” and “brotherhood” in the soccer program and community, according to ncaa.org.
Wondo credits Chico State and Division II soccer with teaching him how to compete and build his confidence as a soccer player. As well as how to better utilize his time; this lesson came from balancing soccer and school. He was pursuing a degree in special education because he was inspired by a Chico State fan with autism.
Wondo earned a spot on the Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team, one of two California Collegiate Athletic Association members to do so. He was also named First Team All-West Region and a four-time First Team All-CCAA player. He was inducted into the Chico State Hall of Fame in 2015.
All of these collegiate accomplishments came from one scholarship offer when nobody else wanted him. When he left he set Chico State’s career points list (101), he was third in goals scored (23) and fifth in assists (23). This is the legacy Wondolowski left before joining The Chico Rooks, a National Premier Soccer League team, in 2004.
In 2005 he was drafted 41st overall as a supplemental pick and even then he had to wait five years to make an impact in the MLS. But his time as a Division II athlete showed him to wait for his opportunity and to seize it when it arrived. That breakout came in 2010 when he scored 18 goals in 28 games, earning himself his first Golden Boot.
From 2010 on Wondolowski was a star in the MLS and set himself to new heights. The highest of which was his 2012 season when he tied the record for most goals in a season with 27, broken in 2018 by Josef Martinez with 28, while earning himself another Golden Boot and the MLS MVP award. He joined names like Walter Payton (1977 NFL MVP) and Pete Vuckovich (1982 Cy Young winner) as the only Division II athletes to win their sports major league award.
Despite all these accolades, he is probably most famous for missing a game-winning shot from a few yards away in the final minutes in the round of 16 against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. A moment that Wondolowski said made him feel “gutted.”
Chris Wondolowski is an icon in American sports; one who compares to any of the greats in any major league sport. Whose life might have turned out differently had he not accepted the lone scholarship offer from Chico State; the one school that saw greatness in him and helped him blossom to the legend he is today.
Ricardo Tovar can be reached at [email protected] or @rtovarg13 on Twitter.