With the U.S. in the final stretch before this summer’s World Cup, Coach Juergen Klinsmann has challenged his players to step up and make a statement if they want to make the team.
Chris Wondolowski proved Saturday that he got the message, scoring goals in each half to lift the U.S. to a 2-0 win over South Korea before a sold-out crowd of 27,000 at StubHub Center.
Whether that will be enough to earn him a seat on the plane to Brazil remains to be seen. But it sure didn’t hurt his chances with Klinsmann, who admitted he came away impressed.
“If you are committed, if you are hungry, if you give everything you have over a long period, sooner or later you get rewarded for it,” he said of Wondolowski. “And for 21/2 years now we’ve been working together and in every training session and every day he came in he gave everything he has.”
For the time being Klinsmann says the physical Jozy Altidore is his first-choice striker despite his recent struggles with Sunderland of the English Premier League, for whom he’s scored once in 22 games. But Wondolowski is making sure that conversation isn’t over, with his two goals Saturday giving him eight in his last nine games with the national team.
“For us, it’s great to have now competition,” Klinsmann said.
Wondolowski needed less than four minutes to get things started Saturday, hanging back and then diving toward a scramble in front of the net to head in the rebound of Brad Davis’ deflected shot.
That was all the offense Nick Rimando would need, with the U.S. keeper making five saves to remain unbeaten in 10 games with the national team.
Wondolowski added a second score 15 minutes into the second half and it came in a similar fashion, with the San Jose Earthquakes striker latching onto a ball that inadvertently hit Landon Donovan on the foot and driving it past Korean keeper Sung-Ryong Jung.
“He’s a pure finisher. He smells where the ball will fall in,” Klinsmann said of Wondolowski. “He follows his first thought and just gets it done. And it’s really a reward for his commitment, for his attitude, for his character.
But it’s nothing new for Wondolowski, who scored 72 goals and won Major League Soccer’s most-valuable-player award in his last four seasons in San Jose. Yet he had started only four times and had never scored for the national team until seven months ago.
Now Wondolowski is rushing to make up for lost time. His success could come at the expense of former Galaxy forward Mike Magee, the reigning MLS MVP with the Chicago Fire. Magee didn’t even make it to the game Saturday because of food poisoning.
“I’m going to try to make the most of it,” Wondolowski said. “That’s always been my mind frame since Day 1. And that’s what it’s going to be until the last.”
Asked whether that would be enough to get him on the World Cup team, Wondolowski smiled.
“You can’t play the numbers game at this situation,” Wondolowski said. “All you can do is you hope for a call-up and when you get one, try to make the most of it whenever you can.
“You know, just let your work do the talking.”
Wondolowski’s work spoke loud and clear Saturday.