When he takes the field for his World Cup debut on Monday, Chris Wondolowski will have a stray 'W' printed on the inside of his jersey.
Last year, during a Gold Cup match in Portland against Belize, Wondolowski didn't realize his name was misspelled on the back of his jersey. It read "Wondowlowski" – with an extra W between the "O" and the "L." Only later did he realize the error, when he saw a photo of it on the Internet.
And since he scored a hat trick in that game, he decided to have the extra W taken from the flubbed label and sewn onto the inside of his jersey. Why ruin a good thing, right?
"It's something I laugh about, chuckle about," he told Yahoo Sports last week in Jacksonville, "but I still have it there. I happened to score, and we said we had to keep it."
Four days later, with the "W" tucked away under his shirt like Superman's S under his Clark Kent attire, Wondolowski scored another two goals against Cuba. The lucky letter worked again.
Now here he is, at age 31, on his first World Cup roster. He and his W made it, and Landon Donovan did not.
"Wondo," as he's called, isn't expected to be a star in this tournament. One oddsmaker puts his chances of being the team's leading goal scorer at 10-1, which are the same odds as "No USA goal scorer." But he's something rare and valuable for the U.S. side: an opportunistic forward with a scorer's touch. Think of him as the soccer equivalent of T.J. Oshie – not in the shootout sense, but rather in the knack for finding the net sense. Wondolowski's hot streak could turn into the Americans' good fortune if it continues in Brazil.
And it would end a long drought: No American forward has scored in a World Cup game since Brian McBride did it in 2002.
"I remember it vividly," McBride told Yahoo Sports last week while he was in Jacksonville to donate soccer gear to a youth team as part of his work with Allstate. "[Claudio] Reyna laid it across, [Josh] Wolff set me up and it was celebration time." The goal made it 1-0 and Mexico would not recover. It vaulted the U.S. into the quarterfinals and is remembered as one of the most significant goals in American soccer history.
Watch Brian McBride's legendary goal against Mexico:
There has not been a more important score since, even including Donovan's fantastic finish against Algeria in 2010. If the U.S. is to emerge from the Group of Death, it will need someone to be a finisher like McBride was, and Wondolowski has as good a shot to be the unlikely hero as anyone on the roster.
He's quite familiar to MLS fans. Wondolowski was the league's top goal scorer with San Jose in 2012. He comes from soccer blood: his brother played professionally and his dad played at Cal. As for the scorer's knack? He's not sure where that came from.
"My dad was more of an outside-mid," he said. "Do the dirty work."
Wondolowski will be more likely cast for clean-up work when the U.S. gets going against Ghana on Monday. He could be a late-game replacement or a sub when the team needs a spark. He said his role is "still being defined."
"I just want to practice as hard as I can, try to push for any minutes I can get," he said, "whether it's starting or off the bench, getting a goal late, whatever it might be."
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He doesn't mind being the graybeard on the team. He wasn't sure if he would ever play in the World Cup, and this figured to be his last shot.
"It's been a long road that I took," he said. "You always question where you might end up."
He's ended up here, with a chance to end a long U.S. drought and become just as much of a known name as McBride was. The man happens to be on a winning streak, and three W's might just help the U.S. to at least one more.
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