Wondo takes Wildcats to World Cup

Former Chico State student Chris Wondolowski stands with the U.S. men’s national soccer team before playing against Azerbaijan May 27 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Former Chico State soccer player Chris “Wondo” Wondolowski continued what has been a storied soccer career, playing in the World Cup in Brazil this summer with the United States men’s national team.

The immersion in soccer at the World Cup was something he will always remember, but being a professional on and off the field is the biggest lesson he learned while in Brazil, Wondolowski said.

“I was with the World Cup team for eight weeks and, you know, you just really saw what it takes, day in, day out, not only on the field in training but off of it as well,” Wondolowski said. “So a lot of hard work definitely went into it.”

When asked about capturing the heart of the nation when the U.S. team made it past group play, the whole experience of it was amazing, he said.

Former Chico State student Chris Wondolowski (18) with the U.S. men’s national team before a game against Azerbaijan May 27 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

“It was cool to be with those guys because they are some great players, but they are cooler guys off the field,” Wondolowski said. “And I think that we grew really close off it, and I think that was something that helped us along the way. You always want it to end differently, but it was an amazing time that I’ll always remember.”

Memories of his 2003 season at Chico, in which the team was runner up in the NCAA Division II tournament, came to mind while in Brazil, Wondolowski said.

“I think I’ll always be grateful for the time that I had at Chico,” Wondolowski said. “It really taught me how to compete. The CCAA is a very tough conference and every game was a battle. I really learned that it’s a tough grind and you have to be ready for it.”

His former soccer coach at Chico, Mike O’Malley, certainly saw some of the signs that he would be a great player, but had no idea he’d be this good.

“I knew that he had the work ethic and the abilities and probably succeed at the professional level,” O’Malley said. “But I had no idea, and no one else did, that he would be as prolific as he ended up.”

Even Wondolowski didn’t have an idea of where his career would end up and if given another chance to compete at the World Cup, he would absolutely be up for it, Wondolowski said.

“I mean, I didn’t really think it was in the cards, but it’s been an amazing ride and it’ll be something I will always cherish,” he said.

Something that is overlooked by many is Wondolowski’s competitiveness, according to O’Malley and Robby Busick, Wondolowski’s former Wildcat teammate.

“He is one of the most competitive athletes I’ve ever been around,” O’Malley said. “There are usually two categories of competitive people: people who love to win and people who hate to lose, and Chris has a phenomenal combination of both.”

Former Chico State student Chris Wondolowski (right) battles for the U.S. men’s national team against Azerbaijan #3 Rasim Ramaldanov (left) May 27 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Wondolowski had a combination of luck and persistence that helped him get to where he is today, O’Malley said.

The persistence outweighed the luck on the professional level as Wondolowski wasn’t all that lucky early in his career, not getting much playing time, O’Malley said. Once Wondo got his chance, he did not disappoint.

“All it took was a coach that had faith in him and give him a starting role, and he responded by scoring goals,” O’Malley said.

In 2010 and 2012 he won the Golden Boot, an award given to the top goal scorer in the MLS, as well as winning the MLS MVP award in that 2012 season.

“The fact that he stuck with it and never gave up on his dream is a testament to anyone that is young playing this game,” Busick said. “And how hard work, dedication and not giving up will eventually pay off.”

“With the World Cup, he paid his dues, he worked hard and kind of was quiet,” Busick said. “Then he got his opportunity and made the most of it. I’ve always told people, no matter what team he was on, given an opportunity, he will prove his worth.”

Check out Wondolowski’s career through the years

Timeline by Nick Woodard

Chance Keenan can be reached at [email protected] or @chancelikelance on Twitter.