Wondo rules the pitch. (Getty Images)

A Conversation With Chris Wondolowski, Kiowa, MLS's 2012 MVP

Vincent Schilling
12/5/12

Last Thursday, Major League Soccer player Chris "Wondo" Wondolowski, Kiowa, cemented his name in history by becoming the first San Jose Earthquakes player to win the league's coveted Most Valuable Player trophy. The presentation was made after a week’s worth of festivities at the Volkswagen MLS MVP celebration  on November 29 at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles.

The 2012 season was a remarkable one for Wondo with 27 goals, tying an MLS record originally set by Tampa Bay’s Roy Lassiter in 1996. However his season was even more impressive in that he has led the league in goals for three straight years and received the MVP this year with an overwhelming majority of votes.

For the season, 29-year-old Wondo, a former reserve player received an impressive 91 percent of MLS club management votes, 97 percent of media votes and 71 percent of player votes for a combined 259 percent. Runner-ups were Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls with 14 percent, and Graham Zusi of Sporting Kansas City with 7 percent.

In an interview with ICTMN, Wondo expressed that he was thrilled to be named MVP, even though he wished he was playing in the championship game, how he is “damn proud” to be Kiowa, his work ethic and how he has reached his level of success.

Congratulations on winning the Major League Soccer MVP award.

Thanks very much. I wish I was playing in the championship game, but I was definitely happy to receive that award. It is just a huge award and I am much honored to receive it.

How did it feel to hold up that trophy?

It was a great feeling that definitely gave me chills and goose bumps. It was relieving to see how much my hard work has paid off. To see this come together was pretty cool. I got to experience all of this with my wife. We really had fun and enjoyed everything that weekend.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said you were signed, then first played as a reserve but went on to become one of the greatest ever Major League Soccer players, demonstrating tremendous prowess.

That is a great compliment, it is one of the best I have ever received which just shows he obviously knows the sport, he knows the product well and his words meant a lot when he said that.

Your MVP voting percentage statistics are unbelievable.

There are definitely some guys out there who also had some great seasons; it was pretty cool to be mentioned alongside those guys. Thierry Henry and Graham Zusi are definitely some good guys.

In interviews with the press, your coach, Frank Yallop, says you are not a selfish player and very team-oriented.

Out of anything, that is the comment that means a lot. I honestly have to give a lot of credit to my teammates. It’s fun to be a part of that locker room mentality that we have in San Jose. It really makes things enjoyable. They really deserve the credit as well.

My coach is a great coach—he is definitely a player’s coach. He listens to you and he really makes the schedule work. If we have two games in one week, he can switch the lineup to keep guys fresh throughout the whole season. He was able to get a lot of good guys and they all want to play for him—it's a lot of fun.

You recently met with U.S. Senators in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness for Native American health issues?

This is part of who I am, so this issue is extremely important to me.  It’s part of my heritage and part of my life. My grandparents always played a big role in my life as well as my family. I always remember going to pow wows—I want to continue fighting for my culture and I want to use this platform that I have to make the most of it.

My grandparents and a lot of my cousins are back in Oklahoma - I haven't really experienced reservation life - but I have seen a lot of it.

You are a role model for Native youth: What can you say to them?

Believe in yourself and believe that you can do whatever you want. It is definitely going to take some hard work and some sacrifices to do it. Continue to believe and work for what you believe in. that is the message I would like to send them. Where I am in my career is through that. I work hard for what I believe in.

Soccer is arguably the most popularly played sport in our country by young kids. Do you think professional soccer could overtake football in popularity someday?

Absolutely, and I think it is going to continue to grow in popularity. I feel that there is a little bit of a gap, but as more of the population begins to play soccer and get to know about it, and know about the game, I really think it will help it grow. I love football, so maybe we can grow together in this popularity contest. Soccer is a great sport as well that is definitely fun to follow.

How have your Native roots played a part in this game?

I believe my Native roots, that have always been a part of me, are what helped me to maintain who I am as a person both on and off the field.  My roots have given me values and morals which I think are the most important thing about all of this.  I also think being able to run, with some great lungs, is part of my Native American history. I can definitely run well and it leads to some of the success on the soccer field. Especially in terms of being in shape and being able to outlast other players.

What is your secret to success?

I really believe in hard work with a bit of good fortune. It took a little bit of time, but being able to learn the game and being able to grow up and mature as a person, I just think that the timing was perfect for this year. For me and for who I am as a person, to be a little smarter toward the ball, has certainly helped.

Again, I just believe in what I'm working hard for.

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