BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The annual January camp for the US national team always consists of many players new to the international scene, but few have earned their way in such surprising fashion as Chris Wondolowski.
One year ago, Wondolowski was considered a 26 year old average MLS player with fewer than 60 league appearances to go along with seven career professional goals.
In 2010, as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes, Wondolowski enjoyed one of the most surprising breakout seasons in the history of the league when he scored 18 goals in 26 regular season games to win the MLS scoring title.
"Things have definitely changed a bit," Wondolowski told YA from USMNT camp. "I was just confident in my ability and I've improved in my knowledge of the game. I just put everything together that I've learned throughout my career so far."
Winning the scoring title earned Wondolowski an invitation from US head coach Bob Bradley to be part of the January Camp which will conclude this weekend with a friendly against Chile at the Home Depot Center.
Wondolowski doesn't have the same pedigree as other MLS Golden Boot winners. He has never represented the US internationally at any level and played his college soccer at lesser-known Divison II Chico State. He entered MLS via the late rounds of the 2005 Supplemental Draft
Now in his first national team camp, he says his goal is to improve as a player.
"Just to learn as much as I can," the Danville, California native said of his goals at camp. "I am surrounded by a great coaching staff and a lot of great players that have a little bit of knowledge that they all bring and a little bit of style that they all bring. I want to take a little bit from everyone. I want to help myself grow as a player and as a person."
Wondolowski also is confident that he can add skills that can help the team against Chile and possibly in the more high profile games that lie ahead once the first team regulars are called in. With national team forwards struggling ever since Charlie Davies suffered injuries in a car crash, Wondolowski feels as if he can help provide relief.
"I feel like I have a good work rate and I can play both sides of the ball - both offensive and defensive," Wondolowski described of his game. "I feel very confident around the goal and I feel that if I get a chance, I feel like I can finish it. That will be a key for me."
Following camp, Wondolowski will prepare to rejoin San Jose for the 2011 season. He began his MLS career in San Jose in 2005 and stayed with the club during its relocation to Houston in 2006. Halfway through the 2009 season, he was traded back to San Jose which re-entered the league as an expansion team.
Last season, Wondolowski's scoring title helped the team unexpectedly advance all the way to the Conference Finals.
"It's just one of those things that's slowly building," Wondowlowski pointed out on the team's rise. "If you look at the second half of the year from 2009, we were definitely on the right page. I feel it just took a little bit of time to get the right players. We also had the right attitude and I think that's been key."
As for the coming season, he knows it will be difficult to repeat the success of 2010 since they will no longer be a surprise team. Despite that, he expects the team to do well since the core group of players will be returning.
"We have high expectations," Wondolowski said of the 2011 season. "We expect a lot from ourselves because we have a great core group. We feel confident going into this year but we also know it took a lot of hard work last year and it's going to take even more this year."
Wondolowski's success in 2010 also led to some reports from Poland that suggested that the Polish national team was recruiting him to take part in their team as they prepare for the 2012 European Championships which they will be co-hosting with the Ukraine. Wondolowski was eligible for Poland through his family ancestry.
Wondolowski did not dismiss this report but he did say that once Bradley called him into camp, the decision was easy.
"I grew up in the US my whole life," Wondolowski said of the decision to play for the US. "I'm a fan of the US. It was a pretty easy choice once I got the opportunity. It's always been my dream and goal to play here."
While the decision to play for the US national team was easy, Wondolowski did admit that the decision to stay in MLS could be a little more difficult should he continue to impress and high profile clubs from Europe show interest.
He is happy with playing in his home state, but playing in the most prestigious leagues in the world would be tempting.
"I love it in MLS right now," Wondolowski concluded. "I love where I am and it's home for me. If the opportunity comes, I definitely wouldn't shake my head at it but I am definitely thrilled to be where I am at right now."
Wondolowski and the US national team will continue with camp this week which will conclude with a friendly against Chile on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.