[U.S. SOCCER] Of the 23 players named by Coach Bob Bradley for a friendly against Spain and the Concacaf Gold Cup in June, only one has one cap. That would be San Jose attacker Chris Wondolowski, the 2010 MLS Golden Boot winner who played his first international match earlier this year. As one of just three forwards named to the squad, he figures to get significant playing time.
Wondolowski knows those 59 minutes he played against Chile at Home Depot Center last January in his debut didn’t persuade Bradley to list him among just three forwards on a squad that could be playing as many as seven games in three weeks.
Nor does the man nicknamed “Wondo” believe that the 18 goals he scored last year to win the MLS Golden Boot – after netting just seven in the previous five seasons – did the trick, either. His good form so far in 2011 – five goals in 10 games – played a role, but a major factor is what he did in January before he stepped onto the HDC field, heart pounding, and heard the national team while wearing a U.S. jersey for the first time.
"I’m not sure if it was all about Chile, I think it helped to be in front of him for a month in camp there, and also the last couple games in MLS,” says Wondolowski. “It’s not just how you play, it’s what you do on and off the ball while you’re on the field: do you track runners, do you open up, and stuff like that. He pays a lot of attention to the little things that are a big deal at this level.”
Some all-time top scorers at the MLS level – Jason Kreis and Taylor Twellman, to name two – didn’t stick at the next level, and at age 28, even if Wondolowski makes the grade, he won’t have many years on the national team. His selection and the omission of Teal Bunbury – who replaced him in the match against Chile and scored the U.S. goal – are among several curious decisions made by Bradley, yet logical in the sense that while Bunbury is clearly a talent for the future, Bradley needs production this month. He’s also ideally suited to play as a second forward underneath either Juan Agudelo or Jozy Altidore.
“It’s a brave decision by Bob to take him over Teal Bunbury, instead of taking a young player  to take a proven goalscorer in our league,” says Quakes coach Frank Yallop, who swung a trade midway through the 2009 season to get the Northern California product who played Division II soccer near home at Chico State. “I think it’s going to work out really well for the squad.
“He came back from the [January] camp feeling he hadn’t shown them what he’s really made of. He said training was okay but he felt he’s better than what he showed in January. Bob and I have talked about it, and Bob knows he’ll be sharper in midseason.”
The sharpness he’s shown with the Quakes during games is seen by Wondo’s teammates and Yallop every daily. Like Yallop, along with skill and talent Bradley values highly commitment, work ethic, and determination, all character traits Wondolowski unfailingly displays. He’s also imbued with the fearlessness a forward needs to plunge into melees and scrambles in search of a goal.
“He does extra training every day, he never wants to not play a game,” says Yallop. “If it’s a reserve game, he’s like, ‘Can I get in half an hour or 45 minutes?’ His appetite for the game is just incredible. It rubs off on our guys, too. He’s the Golden Boot winner but he’s trying harder to make sure he maintains that. If he’s not the best finisher -- I’ve been around some good players – he’s pretty close. There’s nobody better in practice than him. He doesn’t miss. It’s incredible.
“He’s very brave. He’s not afraid to go in anywhere. He gets into the box where it’s dangerous, where boots are flying and he could get his faced kicked in, but he gets in there. There are always tough, strong guys trying to get him off his game, but he never wavers.”
His focus could be tested this weekend when the Quakes play Chicago in his final league match before reporting to the national team training camp in Cary, N.C. Never before has he been in the situation of rushing off to join the USA a few hours after the final whistle of a league game. Yet a guy who throws his entire soul and self into every training session isn’t likely to be distracted even if his next appearance could be against the world champion.
“Of course, I think that’s the game plan now, just go out there and tear ‘em up,” he laughs of what would be a dream scenario against Spain June 4 at Gillette Stadium. “I wish. They’re such a great team, but one thing, for sure – especially being at home – it’ll be a tough game but we’ll give them everything that we can, give ‘em our best shot.
“You really can’t be in awe of your opponent. It’s just another game with guys across from you and you have to fight and battle and scratch and claw your way for 90 minutes.”
The same approach should also suit him and the Quakes against the Fire. San Jose hosted a 2-2 U.S. Open Cup tie Tuesday that the Fire won on penalty kicks; in last year’s corresponding match, the Quakes won, 2-1, at Toyota Park.
“Whenever you play a team twice in a week it’s more intense,” says Wondolowski. “Sometimes the bad blood carries over and you remember that one guy who got in a tackle on you or stole the ball from you. Chicago is a hard-nosed team and they’re going to get stuck in and tackle and fight you, so it is going to be a battle.
“I just see it as another chance to impress Coach Bradley and show what I can do. It’s important for me and important for the Quakes to get a win, so that’s first and foremost. Once it’s Saturday night and Sunday morning all my attention shifts to the national team and trying to win the Gold Cup.”