SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Perhaps the most impressive thing about San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski’s ascension to the rarified level of MLS’ All-Star First XI is that he reached that height despite missing four Earthquakes matches while serving with the US national team during the Gold Cup.
It’s one thing for USMNT perennial Landon Donovan to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to choosing the first 11 players to face Manchester United. It’s another entirely for fans to give that kind of consideration to a guy like Wondolowski, who was pretty much unknown, even in MLS, before scoring 18 goals last season.
“Being away, you forget that he’s scored six goals,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “That’s a good tally already this year. He’s a humble guy that doesn’t get many awards and accolades.”
For Wondolowski, who had never before sniffed an All-Star team in six MLS seasons, to get such treatment speaks loudly to the impact that winning the 2010 Golden Boot has had in terms of raising his national profile.
“It’s tough [to expect a First XI berth] because there are so many good forwards in the league,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I wasn’t sure, especially being away for a month. You hope so, but you’re not sure it’ll come to pass.”
Even in a year filled with ever-higher levels of success — Wondolowski flew Tuesday night immediately after the Quakes’ 2-1 exhibition win over West Bromwich Albion to attend the ESPY Awards Wednesday as a nominee in the Best MLS Player category — this is a new peak.
“Just, ‘Wow,’” Wondolowski said of his reaction to hearing the First XI news. “It’s still pretty crazy. I don’t think it’s really sunken in yet.”
Wondolowski isn’t guaranteed a starting spot, and it’s no certainty that MLS coach Hans Backe will adhere to the 4-3-3 lineup preferred by fans. But that doesn’t faze the 28-year-old.
“It’s incredible just to be out there and playing Man. United, whether it’s for 30 seconds or whatever,” Wondolowski said. “To see [Ryan] Giggs out there, [Rio] Ferdinand … the whole team is incredibly stacked.”
That said, there’s one Manchester United player above all that Wondolowski wants to see.
“Being a forward, [Wayne] Rooney is the one I strive for my game to be like.”
With the advent of international mega-opponents, the All-Star Game is seen in some quarters as a referendum on how MLS stacks up worldwide. Nevertheless, Wondolowski said he feels no burden of carrying the flag for American soccer.
“It’s almost less pressure because you get to play against some of the best,” Wondolowski added. “They’re going to do well, but I think we can give them a run.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes