Who are the top forwards in Major League Soccer?
Surely Bradley Wright-Phillips makes the list after the season he had last year. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins get it done consistently for the Seattle Sounders. Jozy Altidore has returned to the with a bang and the LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane continues to dazzle out west, while Kei Kamara and Octavio Rivero are finding the back of the net with regularity for their respective clubs.
A name that is consistently left off that list is San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski, but why?
It's not like Wondolowski lacks the credentials. He's scored 98 goals in 208 MLS games and hasn't had a season with fewer than 11 goals since 2009. He became the Earthquakes all-time leading scorer - a franchise that featured Brian Ching, Landon Donovan, Ronald Cerritos, Alejandro Moreno, and Jovan Kirovski - in 2012 and has scored nine times in 27 appearances for the U.S. National Team
"That's amazing," Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said of Wondolowski's career achievements.
So why is Wondolowski overlooked by so many when discussing MLS' best goal scorers?
"I don't know. That's a good question," Berhalter responded.
"I think in America by in large, they equate upper-tier guys with winning, with championships. I'm not sure how many championships he has."
Wondolowski was on the Houston Dynamo championship teams in 2006 and 2007, but recorded just 22 appearances, seven starts, and scored two goals over that time. Not exactly the catalyst for the titles.
Since moving back to San Jose, where he was drafted before the team moved to Houston, Wondolowski has won the MLS Golden Boot twice, been named to the MLS Best XI team three times, and took home the Most Valuable Player award once, but only has won one Supporter's Shield and no MLS Cup titles since he became the guy.
"And he hasn't been in the biggest market," Berhalter pointed out.
The forward's rise to success took place in San Jose, a team whose games are often late for those on the opposite coast and who are not frequently seen on national television. This makes it hard for many to include Wondolowski in their list of top forwards because they simply don't see him enough.
Not Berhalter though.
"He's been, in my eyes, one of the top five goal scorers in the league," the head coach said.
"In my opinion, [he] is one of the top five goal scorers this league has ever seen."
The numbers back Berhalter's claim, but Wondolowski's play speaks for itself.
"You can't define [it] and that's his quality," Berhalter said. "It's being in the right places at the right time and when he's there, able to execute."
This is what the Black and Gold have to be aware of on Saturday night when they take on Wondolowski and the Earthquakes in Crew SC's first ever trip to the new Avaya Stadium. The striker has five goals in nine appearances this year and two in his last three games. It's his unpredictability that allowed him to score against Columbus a year ago and what Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatez will have to be wary of this weekend.
"That's very hard to describe," Berhalter explained on Thursday. "If you tell the team, ‘Watch out. He pops up in unpredictable places,' what kind of information is that? But it's true. That's the way the guy plays. He has a great nose of the goal and when he gets in position, he's able to execute. He's been, in my eyes, one of the top five goal scorers in the league."
While Wondolowski's name gets left off some lists, he is certainly someone Berhalter and his team will be aware. If Columbus want to return home with a full three points for the first time all season, they will have to slow down Wondolowski, who should certainly be considered one of the league's best.