SALVADOR, Brazil – Chris Wondolowski admitted he will be haunted by the straight-forward chance he missed that might have sealed victory for the United States against Belgium on Tuesday.
The U.S. forward was totally unmarked when he received the ball just a few yards from goal with the score still tied at 0-0 deep into stoppage time at the end of regulation, but sent his effort way over the crossbar.
"I would be lying if I said I won't be thinking about it," Wondolowski said, after the U.S. fell to a 2-1 extra time defeat in the round of 16. "Being a forward you make some, you miss some. I know that. But, geez, I really wish that would have gone in."
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The assistant referee on the right side of the field put his flag up to indicate an offside infraction, even though Wondolowski was clearly in an onside position. If the ball had gone into the net, it may not have counted – although given that the 31-year-old was so obviously in a legitimate area, the referee may have overruled his assistant and awarded a goal anyways.
We will never know.
A FIFA media fact sheet stated the U.S. had not been called offside once during the game, though that statistic has no official standing and is not ratified by the referee, his assistants or any match official.
Wondolowski and Dempsey both said they had seen the official's flag go up, but others were not so sure.
"It was a great chance," said defender Matt Besler.
The moment that will rankle American fans for a long time to come came completely against the run of play. Geoff Cameron lofted a ball forward, Jermaine Jones headed it on and Wondolowski could not convert past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, for what would almost certainly have been the winning goal if it had stood.
"I think we had the knockout at Wondo's feet and [if] this ball goes in Belgium is finished," Jones said. "I tried to get this ball to him or Clint [Dempsey]. This is the typical striker job. Sometimes you score, you will be the best, sometimes you don't score and you are a little bit down."
I'm gutted to have let down everyone but especially my teammates. It's been an incredible ride but I know this will make me stronger.
— Chris Wondolowski (@ChrisWondo) July 2, 2014
Physically exhausted, Jurgen Klinsmann's side conceded two goals in the first half of extra time, before sub Julian Green pulled one back to set up a tense finish.
As for Wondolowski, the pain will be hard to erase from his mind. He will head back to his Major League Soccer team the San Jose Earthquakes and continue his loyal service. Given his age he is unlikely to experience a World Cup again and will surely always wonder what might have been.
"I thought that I had a chance to really seal it up and I didn't convert it," Wondolowski said, insisting he should have put the ball in the net regardless of whether the offside call was made. "It is a fickle game. It is one of those things that I really feel will make me stronger – it is going to keep driving me.
"I really did feel I was going to get another opportunity and if I did I was going to bury it. I just wasn't able to find myself in the right spot and didn't find another opportunity but I should have put it away before then."