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.

Quakes crushed in Vancouver, eliminated from MLS Cup Playoffs


Quakes crushed in Vancouver, eliminated from MLS Cup Playoffs


The San Jose Earthquakes' season is over, after the Vancouver Whitecaps beat San Jose 5-0 in the knockout round of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night. 

Fredy Montero opened the scoring for the Whitecaps in the 33rd minute. In the second half, Cristian Tecera and Kendall Watson scored seven minutes apart and all but sealed the hosts' first-ever playoff win. Second half substitute Nicolas Mezquida scored a brace for good measure, with two goals in 78th and 80th minute. 

Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski was held off of the scoresheet for his fourth consecutive playoff game. The 34-year-old scored one goal in six career postseason appearances. 

Tuesday marked San Jose's first postseason appearance since 2012. The Earthquakes have not advanced past the quarterfinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2010.

Earthquakes come into MLS Playoffs as clear underdogs in Vancouver

Earthquakes come into MLS Playoffs as clear underdogs in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Carl Robinson was talking about the need to rely on key veterans in a playoff game.

And then the Vancouver coach all but confirmed that he will replace two long-time standouts on Wednesday in the Whitecaps' Major League Soccer knockout-round playoff game against the San Jose Earthquakes.

One -- left fullback Jordan Harvey, the longest-serving Whitecap -- definitely will not start. Instead, Marcel de Jong, who has been deployed mainly as a utility player on the back line and in midfield, will get the call.

"Marcel has played very well for the last three games he's played, and so has Jordan, but for this matchup, Marcel will play," Robinson said after a practice Tuesday at the club's University of British Columbia training facility.

Harvey, a 33-year-old Mission Viejo, Calif., native, has rarely taken a night off since joining the Whitecaps in a trade from Philadelphia in Vancouver's inaugural MLS season in 2011.

De Jong, a 31-year-old Newmarket, Ontario, native who plays internationally for Canada, got into only 13 games during the regular season and just seven in 2016 after joining the club in midseason from Ottawa of the second-tier North American Soccer League.

Meanwhile, Stefan Marinovic, a 24-year-old New Zealand international, is expected to start in goal as David Ousted, a 31-year-old Dane who has been the team's heavily used starter since his arrival in mid-2013, watches for the fourth time in the past five games.

Marinovic has a modest 2-2-1 record with one shutout.

"It's no gamble at all," Robinson said of changing goalies. "Stef's a top-class goalkeeper. We know that.

"I'm a very lucky manager in this league in that I've got two very good goalkeepers. Stef's come in and, in the games he's played, he's been exceptional. I need him to make saves at big times. (Ousted) has done that throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Stef has now taken charge."

The Wednesday contest marks the time for the Whitecaps to take charge of their postseason fortunes after they squandered a chance to finish first in the Western Conference and dropped to third thanks to a draw with the Earthquakes two weeks ago and a loss to the Portland Timbers last weekend.

Vancouver (15-12-7) has never won a playoff game in its MLS existence.

The winner of Wednesday's contest will play a two-game, total-goals series against either first-place Portland or the second-place Seattle Sounders.

The Earthquakes, who grabbed the sixth and final playoff berth in the West with a 13-14-7 mark, are clear underdogs. However, Vancouver captain Kendall Waston downplayed the apparent pressure on his team, which was a modest 1-3-1 in its last five regular-season games.

"Pressure, for me, is (not having) money to go buy milk for my son," Waston said. "This is trying to be (as) responsible as we can. We have to look at this match as the others, but the thing is, if we lose, we have to go home -- and we (don't) want to go home."

Vancouver's top scorer, Fredy Montero, said he is ready to play a full game after being used as a substitute in Portland due to a minor injury.

Meanwhile, the Earthquakes will try to continue to rebound from a 6-6-5 start that cost former coach Dominic Kinnear his job. Replacement Chris Leitch saw the team endure some fits and starts, but the Earthquakes managed to get into the playoffs after Marco Urena, a teammate of Waston on Costa Rica's national team, scored the last-minute winner over Minnesota United last weekend.

"I always shine in these important moments," Urena said afterward. "God chose me (for such times.)"

The Earthquakes might need some divine intervention after allowing 21 more goals than they scored during the regular season. Even so, they have one of the all-time best MLS players in Chris Wondolowski, who assisted on the winner and also scored last weekend, earning MLS player of the week honors.

"Legitimately one of the hardest things I had to do in my life," Wondolowski, who loves to shoot, said about passing on the winning goal.

Wondolowski, who is tied for second on the MLS all-time scoring list with Jeff Cunningham at 134 goals, said it has been a "look-in-the mirror-and-see-what-you're-made-of season," for the Quakes, who made several midseason roster changes.