Killion: Wondo's absence an odd blessing for Quakes


Killion: Wondo's absence an odd blessing for Quakes


Coverage begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Ann Killion

Can you have a must win game in just the second month of a seven-month season?

The San Jose Earthquakes might have exactly that Saturday night in Chicago. The game against the Fire is an important game for San Jose, because its the last time in a potentially long time that the Earthquakes will have the services of their best player, Chris Wondolowski.

And, no offense to the Earthquakes, but Wondos upcoming absence is the best thing thats ever happened in his career.

Its probably right at the top, Wondolowski said Thursday. Its a pretty big deal.

Its a huge deal. At 28, Wondolowski was tapped for the U.S. national team. The Livermore native and De La Salle High School product will play alongside the best players in the country (all of whom are available because the European season is over), in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. If the tournament goes as hoped -- all the way to the final -- Wondolowski wont play again for the Earthquakes until early July.

I have full confidence in the team, Wondolowski said. Were playing really well. The defense is playing unbelievably. And were healthy now.

The Earthquakes, after a stumbling start, would like to get out of May without a loss. So far, the team has won three and tied two. A win in Chicago would give the team momentum heading into Junes four matches, which may all be played Wondo-free.

The U.S. team will play in Group C against Canada, Panama and Guadeloupe. Wondolowski is one of three forwards named to the team, along with World Cup standout Jozy Altidore and emerging 18-year old star Juan Agudelo.

As a warm-up act before the Gold Cup gets started, the U.S. national team will play a friendly against Spain in Foxborough, Mass. on June 4. Just a little get together with the World Cup champions; players on the field: David Villa, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, Iker Casillas.

And Wondolowski. Of course.

Its all part of the unreal year that Wondolowski has been having. After getting his first significant playing time in his seven-year career last season, Wondolowski didnt waste his opportunity. He scored 18 goals, winning the MLS Golden Boot award. During the winter, he was called in to the national team camp. And a week ago, he was named to the national team roster by coach Bob Bradley, to play in the first significant post-World Cup tournament.

So, at 28, has Wondolowski changed?

Not really, he said. I have the same mentality, the same attitude. I just try to get better every day as a player.

Its a little bit of everything. Ive grown as a player. Ive learned a lot. I never had the opportunity to play on a consistent basis. Now I am and it helps build confidence.

This is the beauty of MLS. It can give a guy like Wondolowski a chance to play against the best competition in the world.

MLS is not a great place for the very best, already established American players. Most young Americans who get the chance go and test themselves overseas, against the best competition in the world.

The only one who hasnt, Landon Donovan, should have. In response to a report that AS Romas new American owner was interested in Donovan, Donovans agent Richard Motzkin tweeted, Appreciate the interest but why would @landondonovan leave MLS for the same salary?

Why? Gee, I dont know. For the competition, the challenge, the prestige, the ability to play against AC Milan and Juventus rather Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake?

For a player like Donovan, MLS doesnt present a challenge, just a marketing opportunity. But for guys like Wondolowski, MLS is a place to showcase his talents and get the chance of a lifetime.

Who knows what will happen next for Wondo? He wouldnt rule out considering playing in Europe if an intriguing situation came up. He wants to help the Earthquakes get back to the playoffs for the second straight season.

But for the immediate future, hell play with and against some of the best players in the world. Its one more stop on his amazing journey.

Freelance writer Ann Killion is a regular contributor to and Chronicle Live.

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win


Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win


SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.

What they’re saying: Let’s go USMNT against Honduras


What they’re saying: Let’s go USMNT against Honduras

The United States Men's National Team faces a critical match against Honduras. 

With an 0-2 record, and currently in last place, the USMNT is on the brink of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Motivation across the sports world is pouring in for the Red, White and Blue.