Monday, July 18, 2016

Street Soccer USA - Wondo Celebrity Soccer Game Player Ratings

The Street Soccer USA Cup Series completed its third and final 2016 leg this past weekend with a wonderful weekend of soccer at San Francisco’s Union Square.  Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) is an amazing national organization (with International affiliations) that provides a real-world framework of solutions for Homeless and At Risk Youth.  The San Francisco SSUSA has been performing fantastic work for the local community for many years.  In 2010 Chris Wondolowski connected with SSUSA and became their National Spokesman as an outreach based on sports and soccer resonated with Chris. 

This year we worked with SSUSA and the San Jose Earthquakes (among others) to put on a Celebrity Soccer Match in the middle of Sunday’s Tournament Finals.  The venue was on top of Union Square – where two Street Soccer fields were set against grandstands and the beautiful backdrop of the St. Francis Hotel and the rest of the great landmarks.

SSUSA, through its key pillars known as the 8 Street Soccer Skills (Show Up, Play with Heart, Look Up, Take the Space, Build Your Triangle, Praise Great Play, Play the Plan, Adjust the Plan), has built an impressive record of successes in helping Homeless and positively developing at risk youth.  The Celebrity Players demonstrated each of those key pillars on Sunday afternoon.
Before we get into the actual Player Ratings for the Celebrity Match, here are the wonderful people who donated their time and their passion to play in the game:

·         Chris Wondolowski Celebrity Soccer Match – Playing for Social Change
o   Joe Cannon – Former Professional Goalkeeper
o   Chris Dangerfield – Former Professional Forward
o   Todd Dunivant – Former Professional Defender
o   Phil Ginsburg – Current Professional General Manager of S.F. Recreation and Parks
o   Jeremy Gunn – Stanford University Head Soccer Coach
o   Owen Nolan – Former Professional Hockey Player – Captain San Jose Sharks
o   Ted Ramey – KNBR On Air Personality
o   Kate Scott – KNBR, Pac-12 Networks, Comcast Sports, On Air Personality
o   Danielle Slaton – US Women’s National Team Player – World Cup and Olympics
o   Tommy Thompson – San Jose Earthquakes Midfielder
o   Tim Hanley – Professional Soccer Coach
o   David Bingham – San Jose Earthquakes and US National Team Goalkeeper
o   Billy Knutsen – Former Professional Goalkeeper
o   Q – San Jose Earthquakes Mascot

The game was tied at halftime but then Team Wondo pulled ahead in the second half and Team SSUSA could not claw their way back successfully as Team Wondo won 12-9.  Here are the objective Player Ratings for the game (players rated on 1 to 10 scale with 10 being best)  {It’s not the first time these people have been subjected to these journalistic evil ratings so they are used to it}

Chris Wondolowski:  [5.5] – he started out in goal and that was a positional mistake as he didn’t use his hands in the first several minutes.  He was good at getting David Bingham’s shots out of the back of the net.  His field work in the second half elevated his player rating – he and Tim Hanley waged a serious battle.

Joe Cannon:  [8.0] – Joe displayed his field skills and stayed away from goalkeeper (a common theme you will see here) and he was busy filling up the net with his shots from the beginning.  His great first half was impressive.

Chris Dangerfield:  [9.0] – There are two reasons why Danger gets the high rating … (1) He is the television commentator for the Earthquakes games and I’d love it if he just said nice things about my son and (2) His absolute BOMB to begin the second half – {a rocket from his own half of the field that Tim Hanley had no chance on} started Team Wondo on their huge second half run. 

Todd Dunivant:  [8.5] – Todd brought the colorful shoes and the left foot that just scores Street Soccer Goals.  He was a goal-scoring machine on Sunday afternoon and quickly learned the ins and outs of Street Soccer Strategy.

Phil Ginsburg: [9.5] – He scored goals, he helped provide support from The City to SSUSA and he was there in person to show the support of The City.  And, as mentioned, he scored.

Jeremy Gunn: [8.0] – An effective game from the Stanford Coach, brought the cerebral dimension to his team on the pitch.  Unlike just about every other player on the field – he passed the ball frequently which stood out as unique.

Owen Nolan: [9.5] – Man of the Match – Owen Nolan quickly fell into a comfort zone of staying on the offensive half of the field and cherry picking the outlet passes to build up an impressive collection of goals.  Even though his profession included knocking around large men on ice skates – it was clearly not the first time he ever dribbled a soccer ball.

Ted Ramey: [7.5] – Not just a good afternoon from the man with the microphone but also a good week with his on-air support for the event.  During the game he contributed with great insights and context, perhaps going a bit too light on his on-air partner.   

Kate Scott: [8.5] – Kate put in a solid shift and covered more ground than all of the former (and current) goalkeepers combined.  She played on both sides of the ball (a novel approach in the game) and passed unselfishly (an even more novel approach in the game).  She was a bit thrown off at half-time when she didn’t have a microphone chasing one of the players for an interview – but she adjusted well.

Danielle Slaton: [9.0] – Danielle showcased a magic left foot married to an attitude that realized that the score was being tracked.  Her competitive fire combined with some of the best soccer skills on the pitch to put on a clinic for both teams.  She also was a bit lost at halftime without a microphone.

Tommy Thompson [7.5] – Tommy mixed in tremendous ball skills and dribbling displays with an impressive array of errant shots that would qualify him to be one of the Empire’s Soldiers in Star Wars.  For those watching from the 7th Floor of the St. Francis (I think room 732) – would you mind returning the ball that Tommy shot at the final buzzer?

Tim Hanley [8.0] – Coach Hanley put in a full shift – he had Joe Cannon and David Bingham on his team but the line of those who wanted to play Goalkeeper did not exist.  Tim got a great view of some good shots as well as equally great views of some not very good shots that went by him.  But – he did win first, second, and third place in “Saves of the Game”.  Those who play Goalkeeper in Street Soccer always live to regret it.

David Bingham [8.5] – Once David realized that he could shoot the ball at a goal that was being guarded by Chris Wondolowski … it was like he was dropping water balloons from the roof of the school administration building --- one after another after another.  I did have a bit of a paternal instinct to go out there and save my son from further embarrassment … but that feeling went away pretty quickly. 

Billy Knutsen [9.0] – Put simply – Billy saved his team and gave it the victory.  He stepped into goal in the second half to relieve Wondo (who had become exhausted retrieving the ball out of his own net).  Billy made some big saves that helped Team Wondo get out to their second half lead and preserve it – and he was great on distribution.

Q [6.5] – The South Bay Blue Mascot had some great moments – but dealing some of the San Francisco canines (specifically one German Shepard) got the better of him a couple of times.  High points for showing up – next time bring a couple of dog treats though.

Stephen Wondolowski [DNP] – Stephen didn’t get into the game but showed up as a ready-reserve in case some of celebrity players were not able to make it.  Thanks for the support of SSUSA.

Rob Cann and Lawrence Cann [10.0] – The two brothers who started Street Soccer USA and have made it their passion and mission are two of the most inspiring young men you could ever meet. Seeing Union Square transformed into a Street Soccer USA Showcase and seeing the organization’s results makes us all proud.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

When Love and Loyalty Intersect

When Love and Loyalty Intersect
At the risk of getting too dramatic, the announcement yesterday about Chris’ new contract with the Earthquakes is a fantastic testament to love, loyalty, and doing business the way it should be done (in my opinion).  The arc(s) of Chris’ career are, in many ways, amazingly symmetrically balanced and, in all ways, improbably contrived story book plots.

On Love – Chris was an Earthquakes fan long before he became an Earthquakes player.  Playing for the Earthquakes affords him the opportunity of playing in front of friends and family – and in addition he has shown that his definition of “friends and family” extend to everyone who steps into the beautiful Avaya Stadium (especially those who sing for the entire game).  Being with the Earthquakes allows his little Emersyn to waddle-run out at the end of the game and jump into his arms while his wonderful wife and youngest daughter watch (Lindsey doesn’t waddle-run she sprints and Brynlee doesn’t waddle, run, sprint, walk, crawl, or do much at games other than bundle up).  But the first thought I had when I knew the new contract was a done-deal was that in a couple of years Emersyn and Brynlee will both be sprinting out on the field trying to beat each other to their dad’s arms.  That is cool for a Grand-dude and cool for all family and friends.

On Loyalty – One of the things about Chris that I am most proud is that he has approached professional soccer with the mindset that he will do as well as he possibly can, put the team first, passionately support the team and the community … and the loyalty will be reciprocal.  I realize that is more of an ideal than a realistic strategy in today’s world – but with the Quakes Ownership and the Quakes Management … it has been the best strategy.  The Quakes Management and Ownership has been as fair to Chris as any player could wish for or expect. And, as dad, I have to mention how proud I was yesterday when the Quakes did the announcement about the new contract and Chris found out that he had made the USMNT roster for the Copa next month … after all that he simply got in his car and drove up to San Francisco to make two appearances for Street Soccer USA in San Francisco.  (more about Street Soccer USA in a bit).

On Business – I would like to believe that you get paid/rewarded for the value you create for an organization.  You don’t live more than a half-century without realizing that this belief is not consistently fulfilled in the real world.  But I still cling to the belief that good business is win-win and appreciation of the value that each side is able to offer (and has offered).  In my view Chris’ business dealings in his professional soccer life have always reinforced my idealistic belief.  Maybe an agent could have crafted “better deals” … but I don’t think so.
On Career Arcs – the unlikely chance that Chris ever got to break into the MLS was given to him by John Doyle (then Assistant Coach for San Jose) and Dominic Kinnear (then Head Coach for San Jose).  Somehow, improbably, they offered Chris a professional contract as a rookie.  Then – more than 10 years later – after relocation for Dominic, Chris, Quakes to Houston – and after the return of Dominic, Chris, Quakes, John Doyle to San Jose – Chris is fulfilling a professional dream and his father is living a soccer-loving-father’s fantasy. 

Finally – on Street Soccer USA.  (  About 8 years ago Mrs. Wondo read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (sorry Elliott but it was not in the Merc) about this organization that was using soccer as an outreach to homeless.  This group had a remarkable success rate and an amazing force of two brothers driving the organization.  I reached out to the reporter who wrote the story who put me in touch with Rob Cann (brother of Lawrence Cann – the other amazing brother).  We connected Chris and SSUSA and the partnership has been great.  There were years where Chris and Lindsey donated $100 for each goal he scored and Soccer Silicon Valley matched the contributions (along with other fans).  And each year Chris will find his way up to San Francisco a few evenings and meet with the soon-to-be-not-homeless-people in the SSUSA program and play with them at their Street Soccer Training. SSUSA believes “sports can be a primary tool in building safe, healthy communities, where everyone has a place to call home”.  I think we can all agree that there is not one cure-all for homeless and anything that works is a thing that should be treasured and nurtured.  SSUSA works.

I can tell you from personal experience that three years ago at the SSUSA Cup in San Francisco Mrs. Wondo put together a corporate team from her company and yours truly put together a corporate team from his company.  We both played in the SSUSA Corporate Cup and had tremendous fun.  But we also enjoyed watching the SSUSA players who were just inspirational – the entire organization is honestly – the most inspirational team that I have ever seen. 

Please consider visiting and put together your own team to compete at their Cup in Union Square on July 16th and July 17th.  If you can come by on Sunday July 17th – the Earthquakes are teaming with Chris to put together a celebrity Street Soccer Game at 2pm in Union Square.  Even if you go to watch – I promise you will leave with a smile on your face and happy you went.  But go to play and watch – and maybe your team will win the championship of their bracket (like my team did by beating Mrs. Wondo’s team in the final). 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Soccer Dad Weekend - and What do they feed them in St. Louis?

MLS Thoughts – St. Louis Products

This past weekend was a great dad soccer weekend, not the first one I have ever had and I hope it will not be the last one. 

The San Jose Earthquakes played Sporting Kansas City at San Jose’s wonderful fairly new stadium on a pretty nice Sunday afternoon.  While the Golden State Warriors were playing Houston in the NBA playoffs, this father sat in the stands and watched the soccer game – only his Warriors hat showing that he was missing the basketball game.  From time to time … a couple of granddaughters perched on his lap (which doesn’t make you feel young but sure makes life fun). 

A couple of things happened that afternoon that made me reflect on how the real parts of life exist everywhere because that is why they call it life.  It could be professional sports or recreational softball and the things that connect are really rooted similarly. 

At some point in the second half of the soccer game my phone started buzzing.  Many of my friends who were watching the game on ESPN (and no doubt mostly watching the Warriors and/or Giants … or possibly The History Channel but at least during commercials switching to the soccer game) texted me telling me that the ESPN announcers were telling the story about when Chris made it to MLS and I told him that I thought he could ‘be like Taylor Twellman’.  The ESPN translation on air was close but a little off and probably because they got the story from my son who has perfected the skill of barely listening to me over the years. 

Not that anyone really cares, but I have the keyboard so I’ll go ahead and elaborate.

Taylor Twellman was the most potent goal scorer in Major League Soccer history.  In professional sports where players change teams as often as homeowners change their smoke alarm batteries, Taylor Twellman never changed teams.  The New England Revolution appreciated this St. Louis product so much that he played his entire career with one team.  In the process he scored 101 goals with a goal production rate of 0.60 goals per 90 minutes.  To put that in perspective, nobody with more than 75 goals has produced goals at that rate. 

I used to watch Taylor drift off his defender when the ball was across the field, circle around and then make a purposeful run (without the ball and without the defender) into the penalty box in order to receive a pass that he could shoot on goal.  I saw him do this better than anyone else who was playing.  I also saw him create with the ball at his feet and run by defenders with the ball.  So when Chris was signed by the San Jose Earthquakes … when he was unknown and possibly just a body to fill a uniform at training … I told him that I thought if he worked hard he could be like Taylor Twellman.  I suspect that in February 2005 I was probably the only one with this theory.

The thing about being a father is that you say a lot of things that you don’t really believe but that you think you should say because everyone tells you that you need to be positive.  Well, I was probably just being positive but WOW.  I would have never imagined that Chris would have 10% of the goals that Taylor scored … much less more goals than Taylor scored. 

It might have been an amazing coincidence that in the very first regular season game that the San Jose Earthquakes played after Chris made the roster – they played New England at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. (Chris didn't score but Taylor did). 

The other part of Sunday was catching up with another amazing St. Louis soccer superstar.  Brad Davis has been Chris’ close friend ever since Chris entered the league.  They have continued their very close friendship – with wives and children – through a franchise relocation and a couple of trades.  One of the best personal memories of the World Cup in Brazil for me was that Brad and Chris were both on the team and we were able to spend a lot of time with the Davis family. 

Last night we were able to catch up with Brad and there may be no more underrated player in MLS history.  Chris is 4th in MLS in goals and I could not be prouder.  But Brad is 3rd in MLS all time for number of Assists.  Brad has 122 assists – he is only 14 behind Landon Donovan for the most number of assists in a career.  Brad is very likely to be the all-time MLS Assist Leader by the end of next year.  On top of all that amazing passing – Brad has 56 goals.  That offensive production puts him among the all-time elites in Major League Soccer. 

Brad and Chris (and Heather and Lindsey) have been friends for many years.  They owned homes across the street from each other in Houston and Heather used to chase down and retrieve Gattuso whenever he escaped (which was often).  Seeing Chris and Brad together last night made me feel good – that friendships transcend things like trying to trip each other when you are both at work. 

Pretty cool soccer dad weekend.  Back in the day my soccer dad weekends involved driving 5 hour round trips to tournaments in Fresno.  I appreciate my new soccer dad weekends.    

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Just Being a Dad - Heading into another MLS Season --- nothing to see here, you can move along

FULL DISCLOSURE:  this is very much a personal blog that reflects on many years enjoying my son play professional soccer.  This will almost certainly offer no wonderful insights into anything … and will likely be simply a cathartic essay that any dad would do when his son grows up, has child(ren), and tries to settle into his profession. So – no reason to read this or flame me … this is pretty much just a personal thing that (by intent) ends up on the Internet. 

The MLS 2016 season begins this weekend and, amazingly – improbably – surprisingly – Chris Wondolowski is prepared to enter his 12th season as an MLS player.  He is very fortunate to have played for only 3 head coaches (and by my estimation the 3 best head coaches).  He is even more fortunate to have started with Dominic Kinnear and now be back again with Dominic Kinnear (more on that later).  He is tremendously fortunate to be with his home-town franchise that has built an amazing stadium and management/ownership team that has put together what I believe is a fantastic team heading into 2016. 

So – how does a dad who devoted significant portions of his life playing, coaching, and watching soccer process the fact that his son is entering his 12th year as an MLS player?  Truth is – I can’t process it.  This is so far beyond my wildest imagination that I simply cannot get my head around it. 

Some nostalgia:  in Chris’ first year, in training camp before he ever was offered a contract, he and I would talk every day on the phone and every day I would tell him:  “work your ass off and keep your mouth shut”.  And then he got signed – he was told in an airport gate coming back home that he was going to be signed to a Developmental Contract and he called me and it still will be one of the top 20 days of my life.  That first year he worked his way up to the 18 man roster and made a road trip to Columbus – I went to watch him (think Southwest Airlines to Columbus ... that's not the most direct flight you'll ever take) – and he didn’t get into the game BUT the Quakes won.  I think either Ronald Cerritos or Alejandro Moreno got the goal (they may both claim it now)  – it made it a good trip.

I had to look at the website to actually count how many years Chris has played (isn’t that a great thing for a dad?) – and I saw that he has 23 assists in his career … and 25 yellow cards.  We all know that over 90% of those yellow cards are because he can’t keep his mouth shut on the field with the referee.  You can all blame me for that – that is what we call “modeled behavior” (unfortunately - sorry). 

To watch my son grow as a player and a man under the management of Dominic Kinnear, Frank Yallop, and Mark Watson – is probably the most rewarding thing I could ever imagine.  I believe every dad has his limitations – but when Chris is able to fill in my fatherly-limitations with mentors like Dominic Kinnear, Frank Yallop, and Mark Watson???? How great is that? Throw in all the fantastic assistant coaches (Spencer, Tim, Steve, Ian, etc) – and the USA coaches (Bob and Jurgen with their amazing assistants) … and I sit in awe and appreciation at the full life of learning that my son has enjoyed in his last 11+ years.

So we head into the 2016 season.  Chris gets to play with some of the best players he has ever played with – at every position.  But I get to watch and enjoy.  We all know that the sands are always slipping through the hourglass … but as the lower part of the hourglass is collecting the majority of the sand – it tends to make us appreciate the current season more.

Go Quakes – we are blessed with a solid 2016 team and the best stadium in the league.  I am blessed to go to the games with my beautiful wife – fantastic daughter in law, crazy/gorgeous granddaughter, her soon-to-be sister, and my other sons and daughters (and their less-crazy granddaughters)   … HOW FREAKING GREAT IS THAT???? What a dream come true.  

Final thought – by the way --- the extended Wondo Family totals about 10 season tickets for the Quakes.  I want to extend that to 20 next year.  Mrs. Wondo and I will be in the front row at BC9 section at Avaya Stadium for as long as the Quakes are playing.