A month in the past, the longer term was a thriller to Chris Wondolowski. He didn’t know what the return of Main League Soccer can be like, didn’t know if he’d really feel protected, how his staff would carry out, or how life in a bubble in Disney World would work.
However after a month in bubble-land? Thus far, so good.
The Earthquakes shocked many by profitable their group and advancing to the knockout spherical of the MLS Is Again Match. They’ll play Actual Salt Lake within the spherical of 16 on Monday night time.
“We were a little bit under the radar, the way we played the past two seasons and the first two games of this season,” Wondolowski mentioned of the Earthquakes’ last-place 2018 Western Convention end, eighth-place 2019 convention end and 1-1 report in February-March. “But our belief never wavered inside the locker room. And with this tournament-style shortened season, our game plans and our execution are crucial.”
Wondolowski, the all-time main purpose scorer in MLS, has embraced his function as “super sub.” In every of the Quakes’ three video games, he has come off the bench within the second half. And twice, the 37-year-old has added to his MLS objectives whole, which stands at 161.
In a dramatic extra-time 4-Three win over Vancouver, Wondolowski started the staff’s second-half comeback, getting into when the Earthquakes have been trailing 3-1 and scoring to chop the deficit to at least one.
Within the last recreation of group play, towards Chicago, Wondolowski entered within the 82nd minute, discovered himself unmarked within the 83rd and, connecting on a ravishing cross from Carlos Fierro, headed the ball in for an insurance coverage purpose within the 2-Zero victory.
“I was a little surprised,” he mentioned, of discovering himself alone in entrance of the online. “But playing in the heat and humidity, when you come in as a sub with fresh legs, it’s definitely a huge advantage.”
The win clinched the highest spot in Group B, which started the event in disarray. One of many Earthquakes’ group opponents was purported to be FC Dallas, which needed to withdraw due to its variety of optimistic coronavirus checks virtually instantly upon arrival in Orlando. In an effort to equalize teams, Chicago was switched from Group A after Nashville dropped out; Nashville had a variety of optimistic checks after the staff had been in Orlando for just a few days.
“There were definitely some tense times,” Wondolowski mentioned. “We were here before those teams and we wanted our bubble to stay safe. It was very unfortunate, but I’m very grateful there have been no new tests now for over a week.”
Like each staff, the Earthquakes keep to themselves. They’ve their very own space of the Disney Swan and Dolphin Lodge, together with their very own eating space and three co-joined rooms that function each assembly rooms and staff lounge. They sometimes move different groups within the foyer however apart from that, there isn’t a lot interplay.
The gamers are examined each different day. Proper now, the virus is raging in Florida. But when any employee, resembling somebody doing repairs, comes from outdoors the bubble into their area, they need to clear it for a time to permit the realm to be totally sanitized.
“The bubble feels very safe,” Wondolowski mentioned.
There isn’t a lot to do however prepare and bond as a staff. As a result of the Earthquakes’ video games are all within the evenings, because of their West Coast viewers, in addition they prepare at night time.
“It’s still hot then,” Wondolowski mentioned. “I’m happy we don’t have morning games.”
Coaching, video periods and meals can take up solely so many hours within the day. The remainder of the time he spends Facetiming along with his spouse, Lindsey, and two daughters — Emersyn, 6 and Brynlee, 4 — again dwelling, searching for one thing to observe (“I’m watching ‘Last Dance’ again,” he mentioned) and bonding along with his teammates.
They play darts and bingo and playing cards. They speak about social points — like each MLS staff, the San Jose gamers have worn Black Lives Matter warm-up shirts and knelt earlier than video games, an effort Wondolowski believes is an effective use “of this platform to shine a light.”
They watch the opposite video games on tv, as a result of even different MLS gamers aren’t allowed within the stadiums. They’ve performed golf, and Wondolowski noticed some NBA gamers on the course, however that’s as shut because the individually bubbled sports activities have gotten.
He mentioned the staff connection has been among the finest issues about Orlando.
“I’ve been bonding with teammates that I wouldn’t necessarily get to know that well off the field,” he mentioned. “It’s a luxurious to spend time with them. We’re a close-knit group, however this has introduced us nearer. We’re having enjoyable and laughing.
“We’ve taken on the mentality, ‘Let’s make the best of this situation and have fun while we’re doing it.’”
Wondolowski, who had mentioned earlier than the season began that this might be his last yr, is main the best way.
“He’s such a good leader, such a good captain and hardworking guy,” mentioned midfielder Jackson Yueill, 23. “His presence on and off the sector is among the the explanation why the locker room does so effectively. He’s such a giant affect on myself … and for everybody from the older guys to the youthful guys.
“I think he can still play another five years and come out and score in almost every game if he really wanted to.”
Does he wish to?
“I’m not sure yet,” Wondolowski mentioned. “I’m still trying to give it my all for this tournament and not leave any stone unturned.”
The longer term remains to be a thriller. However the bubble-wrapped current is best than anticipated.
Ann Killion is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Electronic mail: email@example.com Twitter: @annkillion