CARSON, Calif. – Jozy Altidore's days as a starter at Sunderland are numbered with every scoreless Premier League appearance. Clint Dempsey, at least the confident and productive Clint Dempsey, has been AWOL since making the surprising move from Tottenham Hotspur to the Seattle Sounders last summer.
These severe dips in form by the United States' first-choice forwards should be cause for concern for coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who must find reliable options up front before the Americans take the field against nemesis Ghana in their World Cup opener on June 16.
Klinsmann could look to Aron Johannsson, the 23-year-old Icelandic-American who can't stop scoring for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. Or, he could look to a veteran goal scorer who's already developed pretty good chemistry with the U.S. attack's twin engines, Landon Donovan and Graham Zusi.
Someone like Chris Wondolowski.
Now, the Twitterati that follow the U.S. men's national team may take great pleasure disparaging such a notion in 140 characters or less. But after Saturday's 2-0 friendly win over South Korea at a sold-out StubHub Center, it's not farfetched to envision Wondolowski being selected to Klinsmann's 23-man World Cup roster in a more significant role than an emergency-backup fifth forward.
The San Jose Earthquakes star scored both goals, heading in a rebound from point-blank range in the fourth minute and calmly converting a wide-open chance at the top of the 6-yard box in the 60th minute. The performance was the perfect ending to a meaningful January training camp for Wondolowski, who looked comfortable leading the line and seamlessly interchanged attacking positions in Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 formation.
Afterward, Wondolowski, whose biggest USMNT highlight before Saturday was a hat trick against Belize in last year's Gold Cup, refused to say whether he belongs on the U.S.'s plane to Brazil. For him, it was just another chance to show what he can do.
"Coach Klinsmann is a great coach and gets paid to make those decisions," the 31-year-old Wondolowski said. "All I can do is go out there and make the most of any opportunity I get."
"Tonight was just Wondo being Wondo – being in the right place at the right time," Zusi said. "He's so good at doing that. But you have to finish [scoring chances] as well and he did that with two great finishes. He's a goal scorer, what else can you say?"
Donovan has a theory why Wondolowski and other top MLS strikers can excel at national team level under Klinsmann, and it goes beyond smart positioning and movement and dogged work ethic.
"Guys like him, guys like Mike Magee, guys like Eddie Johnson, I think they really thrive in this environment because they don't have to do as much of the dirty work as they have to do for their club team," Donovan said. "They can focus on being in good positions and being in front of goal."
Previously, the knock on Wondolowski was that he couldn't score against a quality opponent. Even a brace against South Korea, which has qualified for Brazil 2014, won't stop that criticism. Also, the U.S. will need the experience of Altidore and Dempsey on the pitch against difficult Group G foes Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
But the immediate benefit of participating in the U.S.'s 27-day training camp, including 12 days in Brazil, was not lost on Wondolowski. More importantly, it warmed the heart of Klinsmann who will remember this February day when he decides his final roster in the second week of May.
"Wondo is a wonderful example of if you are committed, if you're hungry, if you give everything you have over a long period of time, sooner or later, you get rewarded for it," Klinsmann said. "It's been nice to see a player like him who is hungry. He's a pure finisher."
And the type of striker who might be too valuable to leave home.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Clint Dempsey
- Chris Wondolowski