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How high can San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski climb?

DC United v San Jose Earthquakes

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 02: Chris Wondolowski #8 of the San Jose Earthquakes celebrates after he scored on goalie Joe Willis #31 of the D.C. United in the first half of their game at Buck Shaw Stadium on May 2, 2012 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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Let’s play a little game and call it “How High Will Wondo Go?”

San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski is streaking toward something special. He leads all MLS scorers with 11 goals in 10 matches. That leaves 24 contests potentially ahead – and it leaves room aplenty for a season like we haven’t seen in some time.

If you look at the top goal-scoring seasons through 16 previous MLS years (the chart is below) you’ll notice something right away: All the splashy totals were in early MLS days, when rosters weren’t nearly so deep and teams generally were not so savvy or organized.

So a high-quality individual could exploit the collective, defensive frailty to a brutal extent. Let’s use Carlos Ruiz’s 24 goals in 2002 as an example. He was a quality marksman, for sure. But if we’re honest, Major League Soccer in 2002 was a league barely hanging on, with just 10 clubs. The quality in depth just wasn’t there.

The collective team proficiency has risen dramatically in the interim, which is why there’s been just one season of 18-plus goals since 2007.

All the more reason to stand up and applaud Wondolowski’s ongoing campaign.

I’m calling it right here: Barring injury, MLS will have its first 20-goal season since Landon Donovan in 2008. In fact, I could easily see 23 goals (or more) from the Earthquakes’ striker, which would put him in a fifth-place tie for top all-time season, at least.

Here’s why I’m so sure:

  • Wondolowski is playing on a very good team. These Earthquakes have found their footing. The standings say so, and so does the eye test.
  • He has a strike partner in Steven Lenhart who demands attention. I know how a lot of people feel about Lenhart, an agitator extraordinaire. I share some of those feelings. But sentiments about No. 24 don’t matter. We’re talking about No. 8, Wondolowski.
  • The guy is durable. He played 28 league games in 2010, 30 in 2011 and he hasn’t missed a match this year. Ability to dodge injury is a part of all this. After all, a certain Frenchman in New York could still have something to say about the MLS Golden Boot chase by the time it’s over, but he’s falling behind right now due to injury.
  • Wondolowski continues to play with a chip on his shoulder. If he gets called into the national team camp, that will serve to keep his confidence on a high soar. If he doesn’t get the Klinsi call? That’s going to be even worse for the field, because Wondolowski will launch a mad mission to prove, yet again, that he doesn’t get the credit he rightly deserves.

While you come up with your own reasons (or counter arguments, if you’re looking for a fight today) here’s the chart of best goal-scoring seasons so far in Major League Soccer:

Rank Name Goals Team Season

1 Roy Lassiter 27 Tampa Bay 1996

2 Mamadou Diallo 26 Tampa Bay 2000

2 Stern John 26 Columbus 1998

4 Carlos Ruiz 24 LA Galaxy 2002

5 Raul Diaz Arce 23 DC United 1996

5 Taylor Twellman 23 N.England 2002

7 Eduardo Hurtado 21 LA Galaxy 1996

8 Landon Donovan 20 LA Galaxy 2008

8 Luciano Emilio 20 DC United 2007

10 Juan Pablo Angel 19 New York 2007

10 Cobi Jones 19 LA Galaxy 1998

10 Alex P. Chacon 19 Miami 2001

13 Kenny Cooper 18 FC Dallas 2008

13 Raul Diaz Arce 18 N.England 1998

13 Stern John 18 Columbus 1999

13 Jason Kreis 18 FC Dallas 1999

13 Roy Lassiter 18 TB/DC 1998

13 Roy Lassiter 18 DC United 1999

13 Preki 18 Kansas City 1996

13 Ante Razov 18 Chicago 2000

13 Chris Wondolowski 18 San Jose 2010