STANFORD -- Get this. Chris Wondolowski is in, Landon Donovan is not.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was full of surprises Thursday with the sudden announcement of the 23-player World Cup roster.
It seemed almost inconceivable the United States would send a group to Brazil next month that excluded Donovan, the greatest player in American history.
The Los Angeles Galaxy sensation is the nation's all-time leading scorer with 57 goals in 156 games, including a U.S.-record five World Cup goals.
"This is certainly one of the toughest decisions -- the toughest decision in my coaching career," Klinsmann said Thursday in a video distributed by U.S. Soccer. "I just see some other players slightly ahead of him."
Equally surreal is the inclusion of Danville native Wondolowski, the Earthquakes star who is one of 10 Major League Soccer players on the roster.
Wondolowski, 31, was considered the longest of long shots just a year ago after failing to score in his first nine international appearances.
But the De La Salle High graduate has scored in nine of his past 10 appearances, including a big goal against Mexico last month.
The coach had gone out of his way to praise Wondolowski this month, hinting that the 6-foot-1 striker was in the mix.
It became official Thursday as "Wondo" beat out Terrence Boyd of Rapid Vienna for the fourth forward spot.
As Wondolowski's stock rose, Donovan's seemed to fall.
Klinsmann didn't play Donovan in the Mexico game, citing poor practices because of an ailing knee.
Donovan was listed as a forward on the 30-man provisional roster, but soccer pundits expected him to play as an attacking midfielder behind starting strikers Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
Donovan was hoping to make a U.S.-record fourth World Cup team. Instead, left fullback DaMarcus Beasley will become the first American to be on four teams, barring injury.
"I was looking forward to playing in Brazil and, as you can imagine, I am very disappointed with today's decision," Donovan said in a statement posted on Facebook. "Regardless, I will be cheering on my friends and teammates this summer, and I remain committed to helping grow soccer in the U.S. in the years to come."
"The last 10 days he did everything right," Klinsmann said of Donovan. "He was always positive, he took it the best way possible. So his disappointment is huge. I totally understand that."
Klinsmann's decision comes with risk. Donovan, 32, commands respect from fellow players not only for his gifted soccer skills but also for his staunch support of MLS.
Three days ago, Donovan dismissed the notion that he and Klinsmann had problems. But the coach wasn't happy when Donovan took a four-month sabbatical at the start of World Cup qualifying last year.
Donovan had to earn his way back, which he seemed to do with a strong performance last summer in the Gold Cup with a second-string team.
But the face of American soccer has struggled in MLS this season with questions about his knee. Donovan, an Earthquakes player from 2001-04, has yet to score a goal in seven appearances, though he has two assists.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who led Donovan in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, called it a politically correct statement.
"If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup," Arena said.
Whether the United States has a realistic chance to advance out of Group G play, much less win a World Cup title, is another question. U.S. expectations are low with Group G including powerhouses Ghana, Germany and Portugal.
In theory, Klinsmann might have figured Donovan's spot would be better served by new talent such as Julian Green, an 18-year-old winger from Bayern Munich. Green is one of five players with German mothers and American fathers on the roster.
The Seattle Sounders' DeAndre Yedlin, 20, also made the roster as a fullback.
But national team regulars Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, Michael Parkhurst and Maurice Edu failed to make the cut along with Joe Corona and Boyd.
Goodson, the Earthquakes' star defender, was a surprise rejection after helping the United States advance to the World Cup with solid play in qualifying rounds.
But fellow MLS stars Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, and Stoke City's Geoff Cameron got the nod at center back ahead of him.
"The door is not closed for them," Klinsmann said of the players who were cut. "We still have a couple of weeks to go, and God forbid injuries happen."
Landon Donovan is American soccer and deserved a World Cup roster spot. Read Marcus Thompson's II full column at www.mercurynews.com/marcus-thompson.
U.S. SCORING LEADERS
Leading goal scorers in U.S. men's national team history:
Landon Donovan 57
Clint Dempsey 36
Eric Wynalda 34
Brian McBride 30
Joe-Max Moore 24