Killion: Wondo's absence an odd blessing for Quakes

May 27, 2011, 5:44 pm
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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.

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