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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.

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