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Getting realistic about the “Chris Wondolowski to Brazil” talk

Jul 15, 2013, 3:01 PM EDT

Wondolowski of the U.S. reacts to goal against Belize during their CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match in Portland, Oregon

Chris Wondolowski’s sizzling summer of international scoring has mercifully provided fans and media something to argue about during two Gold Cup clobberings, group stage mismatches that were remarkable only for the personnel-related subplots.  

And by scoring six times in three matches (including one pre-tourney friendly), Wondolowski has ginned up the ol’ resume while beginning to adjust a narrative that previously read in part, “great league player although ineffective at international level.”

So … check, check and check-arooney on all that.

What he hasn’t done is punch that magical ticket to Brazil – no matter what some of the overly excited among fans and media seem to think.

Most of the breathless, Brazil-related hyperbole is simply a product of time, place and fallible human psychology, this tendency we all have to overvalue events in the moment, simultaneously devaluing achievement that has drifted just a little further from memory.

Aside from the memory gap, the obvious point of disconnect is the relative weakness of opposition lately. Guatemala, Belize and Cuba might make for reasonable practice opposition, but they hardly represent the kind of quality competition that can test and stretch ability. Not being cruel here; these are smaller countries doing the very best they can – and even rebuilding around younger types in Guatemala’s case. Still, we cannot ignore that element of the Wondolowski conversation.

(MORE: Cheering for Wondo in the World Cup? Great! So … who do you leave out?)

What the San Jose Earthquakes high-scoring striker and current MLS Golden Boot holder has done is this: He has improved his position in the big jostle for 23 World Cup roster spots to be decided in 10 months. He has kept his name squarely in the roster conversation. And good on him.

Remember the Golden Rule about international friendlies and these tournament matches against regional small fries: No U.S. performer can truly play his way onto a World Cup roster, but he can certainly clunk his way out of the conversation. The hard reality is this: the man who cannot handle business in a highly effective way against nominal competition, especially when there is no real pressure afoot, cannot possibly be trusted when the stakes and the quality of opposition rise.

This is no knock on Wondolowski; so far it’s a clear “mission accomplished” for the likeable striker. He still has more to do, but “Wondo” has positioned himself for further chances in the tougher matches ahead, starting with Tuesday’s against Costa Rica. (Mad as hornets, those Ticos are, after the Snow Clasico in late March, where Costa Rican officials felt hard done by the decision to play through that snow storm.)

(MORE: What the U.S. striker depth chart looked like coming into the Gold Cup)

Wondolowski has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that he can pounce on defensive blunder with a brutal effectiveness, and there is certainly value to that. (Plenty of strikers cannot reliably do the same.) That has long been his forte, combining smart runs with a clinical finishing acumen to exploit even the thinnest of defensive inattention or the smallest mistake in positioning.

Trouble is, those back line boo-boos may happen once or twice a match against better defenders, not several times a half as we’ve seen lately in these U.S. matches.

There is one more element to this conversation and ongoing debate – “Wondo: Take him to Brazil or not?” – that we will take up in a subsequent post in about an half and hour. So check back.

  1. player169 - Jul 15, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    I agree that it is premature to pen his name in the final 23. I think you make a great point that you can play yourself out of consideration. I like Gomez and he has had his moments, but is he playing himself out of consideration?

    I agreed with Wynalda when he stated that if you take Wondo to Brazil, it’s as a super-sub for the last 20 minutes. I think he is making a case for that role. I also recall John Terry giving a huge compliment to Wondo in the Allstar game last year…saying he was really tough to guard and that he makes very smart movements. You have to have a range of players in your “toolbox” and I think Wondo probably will go to Brazil, but only to be available for very specific situations…

  2. geojock - Jul 15, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    Wondo is simply a scorer and scorers are only good if they were hot. So if he is hot next year, he will be going to Brazil if not, he wont go. Had he not had his recent performances, even if he was hot come next year, he still might be sitting at home. That’s what he did for himself this summer.

  3. dfstell - Jul 15, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    I’m not sure I buy the Wondo as super-sub thing. I mean, who is he coming in for during these “final 20 minutes”. Are you taking Dempsey or Jozy or LD out so you can put Wondo in the game? Would you pull Dempsey or LD back to midfield and put Wondo on for someone like Jones?

    I like the guy and he does make smart runs. But I also think he makes runs that look good because the defense is kinda lousy.

  4. charliej11 - Jul 15, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    There is always a cut off, I am beat my 5 year old in basketball, but somewhere between him and the NBA I start to get beat and not look good.

    I love Wondo as a player, but somewhere between scoring hat tricks against weak teams ( hat tricks that others don’t score btw because he rocks ), and doing it against tougher D, I think he barely misses the cut.

  5. manutebol - Jul 15, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    it should be mentioned he is doing all this on a broken toe right now as well

    • talgrath - Jul 15, 2013 at 6:58 PM

      That is Twitter speculation, as far as I can find, nobody reputable has reported that.

  6. joanismylover - Jul 15, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    Wow. You really do hate the Earthquakes. Or you don’t know anything about soccer. Seriously, can you post a CV or a resume that substantiates your ability to say inane things like that Wondo’s goals here were all the result of defensive blunders? Seriously? I mean Waldo and Cobi Jones at least have some credibility in that you know, each played on the national team and one scored a few world cup goals.

    You on the other hand. Seriously, what a bunch of tripe.

    Gomez played the whole first half against Cuba, plus ten and didn’t do anything, against them. But I guess Cuba must have sucked it up in the second half and it’s just a coincidence that Wondo benefited from those terrible errors. I mean that first goal was so lucky.

    I swear Wondo could’ve scored ten goals against Belize and people would still saying he sucks. I submit and stand by this that people who don’t rate him see MLS as an inferior product and should just stop watching and – in the case of “journalists” – stop covering it. Because it’s not a coincidence that he has scored that many goals. It’s a skill we should be cherishing, not diminishing.

    Same people who hate on Wondo pour the love on Gonzalez. Weaksauce.

    • Steve Davis - Jul 15, 2013 at 7:39 PM

      Hmmm. I honestly don’t think you read the article. Try reading it. Please. And let me know when you get to the part where I say Wondo “sucks.” Because I keep looking back over it, and I just cannot find it. I do see the part where I say “Mission accomplished” so far for the “likeable” Wondolowski.

      But, I suppose we might have a different definition of “hate.” Maybe calling him likeable qualifies in your mind. In that case, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

      • joanismylover - Jul 15, 2013 at 8:41 PM

        Being “likeable” is not the same as being “good”. You didn’t say once in that article that he was good, and you go to some length to tell everybody why what he did was “not good” or at least “not enough”. “He didn’t screw up” is probably the most succinct interpretation of what you said.

        But my point is that he did more than not screw up. The “factual” foundation for your post is that his goals don’t count because they were the by product of defensive mistakes from weak opposition. You say this even though Clint Mathis, Eric Wynalda, and Cobi Jones and that former English guy on Fox Soccer have all repudiated this argument. They have more credibility than you regarding what counts and doesn’t count in the international soccer stage, as they’ve all played games against “minnows” and in the Gold Cup.

        Why can’t you just give him credit? I don’t understand why people, yourself included, would not be thrilled that there’s a new credible striker in the pool, scoring goals at a record pace.

  7. talgrath - Jul 15, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    Wondolowski certainly makes it look easy against the competition so far and a lot can be said for a striker with a nose for the goal who is confident. On the other hand, Wondolowski has only scored these goals against teams the US was already beating when he came on the pitch, it’s easier to score on a panicked and overmatched squad than someone cool and confident like Germany. Ultimately, I think it’s too early to pass judgement either way, let’s see how Wondo does at the end of the Gold Cup before hyping or downplaying him.

    • joanismylover - Jul 15, 2013 at 7:16 PM

      The score was 0-0 when Wondo started against Belize. Wondo scored his hat trick in the first half.

      The score was 0-0 when Gomez started against Cuba. Gomez did not score at all.

  8. mrstev - Jul 15, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    Steve, this is a great debate…thanks for getting it going!
    In the end, I reckon Wondo will sort all this out himself by continuing to perform and thus leaving Klinnsman no choice but to punch his ticket.
    That said, I agree with the poster who called-out all the Wondo-hating going on. People seem to think that some how he his some flash-in-the-pan who just popped-up over night. They refuse to recognize him as a legitimate USMNT World Cup contender. I just don’t get. He is a massive breath of fresh air to a notoriously stale US attack. Let’s celebrate that!

  9. rhaaland - Jul 15, 2013 at 10:07 PM

    I don’t see what’s so controversial about saying that Wondo has done well against some lower tier teams, but you’d like to see him do it against higher level opponents before calling him a “lock” to go to Brazil.

    • joanismylover - Jul 16, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      As you’ve phrased it, it’s not controversial. I really don’t think there are any “locks” on this roster now except for Howard, Bradley, Altidore, and Dempsey. There are certainly a lot of players outside of this who we can say will probably go, like Jones, Guzan, and Donovan. But after that, who really is a “lock” for 2014?

      My problem is with the oft-repeated and uninformed theme that just because Wondo has scored in MLS at a record setting pace – for three years – and is the reigning MLS MVP – it does not mean he has what it takes to play for the Nats. This post, and the following post, are variations on that theme. And they ignore the evidence: 70+ goals in three years of MLS play, most goals in a single season with 27 in 2012, three years in a row as the top goal scorer (tied with DeRo in 2011), highest goal to shot ratio, most shots on frame, etc. Add to that peer reviews – John Terry citing his excellent movement against Chelsea and his goal against Chelsea, Hercules Gomez – saying just a couple of days ago how good Wondo is in the box, just about every MLS defender and coach saying how you have to prepare specifically for him and always know where he is, now Wynalda, Jones, Mathis all saying that he should go to Brazil and that it does not matter that the hat trick was against Belize, etc. Goals are goals are goals.

      Before he scored these six (6) – yes six goals – in the last three games, the narrative was that he NEVER scored for the nats, which while true, implied that he had a lot of opportunity. When it was really only 300 minutes. Dempsey went something like 600 minutes after scoring his first nats goal before scoring his next. Altidore’s recent scoreless streak was over 500 minutes.

      Why don’t we get excited about Wondo?

      I have my theories and I’ve emotionally blurted some of them above. The one that is probably the best is that the people espousing it just don’t think MLS is a good league. If they did, they’d give him a lot more credit than they do.

      • schmutzdeck - Jul 19, 2013 at 12:42 AM

        The idea that MLS players can’t score in Europe or the international level is BS. It took Clint about a half season to adjust and then he was off to the races. Same thing with his predecessor Brian McBride. And the first Clint,Mathis did well in the Bundesliga. He just had some interpersonal issues that got in the way. Had he been half way sane he might have torn that league up.

        Wondow and Jozy both have flourished once they got onto to teams that had some semblance of a cohesive offense, Wondow with SJ and Jozy with AZ.

        Prior to JK’s tenure, the offense rotated around Donovan running the counter and Dempsey scoring on left overs and whatever else he could come up with. In the era of the Dynamic duo, they were the primary scorers with Jozy along for the ride.

        When Jozy went to Holland he finally found some consistency in a team that was organized to attack. It took a while but eventually the US, under JK finally put together the makings of an organized offensive philosophy.

        It is not a coincidence that that Wondow has broken out with the US just after Jozy did.
        This team now has an idea of how to use a striker. If Johansson does well at AZ as Jozy’s replacement and gets called up and accepts, I bet he will do well with this team. And if Gomez had been healthy and played in Wondow’s place I’m betting he would have done well.

        USMNT fans always forget it is an eleven man, team oriented game. This team finally has an idea of how to attack as a team and the strikers will benefit .

        As for Wondow, it depends on if Johansson, or Jack Mac, emerges as the real deal and takes Wondow’s spot.

        There is a lot of time left for Wondow to cool off or get hurt and for others to get hot.

  10. godsholytrousers - Jul 16, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    If form matters, then Wondolowski has moved over Gomez and Johnson.

    If form doesn’t matter, then why bother… Under Bunker Bob, the coach used his trialists for the last 5 minutes of games to “prove” what he had already decided. That is one of the reasons he is gone.

    Klinsmann seems to be giving a reasonable trial to Wondo, Diskerud, Shea etc…
    Some of these players are passing their trials, some are failing, but at least it is the real deal.

    Congratulations to Wondolowski for putting his truth out there for all to see. Many couldn’t do it.

  11. likadipeppa - Jul 16, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Strikers like Wondowlowski are opportunists and great finishers. They never stop trying to score and constantly put themselves in the best position to do so. My son is a defender but when played up top, he often scores and it is because of this same burning to desire to score goals.

    Most strikers when facing excellent defenders have trouble scoring–simple truth. Where I see Wondo playing a role in Brazil is if Jozy or Dempsey is flat…putting Wondo in as a late sub to try and make something happen. I think he would thrive in that role. Once you starting scoring on A-list defenders, guys like Wondo figure out how to do it repeatedly.

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