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Two goals make Wondolowski’s case in U.S.’s 2-0 win over South Korea

Feb 1, 2014, 7:05 PM EDT

wondo Getty Images

CARSON, Calif. — Among those on the fringe of the United States Men’s National Team picture, nobody’s candidacy has been more debate than Chris Wondolowski’s. On Saturday, Major League Soccer’s single-season scoring champion and former Most Valuable Player made another plea to be included in June’s trip to World Cup 2014, scoring both goals in the U.S.’s 2-0 win over South Korea at StubHub Center.

The victory marked a successful end to the U.S.’s winter training camp – one of two times Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will assemble before preparations begin for this summer’s tournament. With only a brief international break in March allowing players to make a final impression before camp is called in May, players like Michael Parkhurst and Brad Davis were making final pitches to make the U.S.’s 23-man World Cup squad.

Nobody did more to help their candidacy than Wondolowski. In the fourth minute, the San Jose Earthquakes captain headed home from close range to give his team an early lead. In the 43rd minute, his work in the right side of the penalty area produced a near-goal for Landon Donovan, while his finish of a Graham Zusi pass into the area in the 60th minute gave him his third multi-goal game of his international career.

(MORE: What went right Saturday for the United States)

For Korea, the loss finished a one-week, three-match trip through North America that saw them face three World Cup qualifiers. After defeating Costa Rica 1-0 in Los Angeles last Saturday, however, Hong Myung-Bo’s team closed their tour with multi-goal losses to Mexico (4-0 on Wednesday in San Antonio) and the U.S.

The opening kickoff saw the United States take a page from their 2013 Gold Cup playbook, where Landon Donovan was name the tournament’s best player while spending much of the competition playing along the defense, above partner Chris Wondolowski. Six months after helping the U.S. blow through that competition’s group stage, the same setup produced an early goal against South Korea.

In the fourth minute, Donovan played wide from just outside the South Korea penalty area, finding Graham Zusi open five yards from touch. The right midfielder’s quick cross far post for Brad Davis forced Jung Sung-Ryong into a reflect stop on diving shot, though the resulting ball allowed Wondolowski to run through a header for the game’s opening goal.

(MORE: What went wrong Saturdays for the United States)

The rest of the half produced more mixed results. In the eighth minute, Lee Ho’s flick from a near-post corner seemed nearly beat Nick Rimando at the near post only to the U.S. keeper extend his arms from inside his own goal to prevent the equalizer. Over the next 20 minutes, South Korea’s willingness to sit deep until the U.S. approached the center line forced the Americans to seize the initiative. Repeated trying to work down their left flank, the U.S. failed to take advantage of Korea’s passive play.

By the 30-minute mark, it was Korea generating opportunities, albeit thin ones. A 31st minute free kick forced a clearance from Omar Gonzalez. A Kim Min-Woo cross from the byline in the 35th minute from saw Matt Besler slide keep the ball from crossing the goal mouth. Another free kick led to an open chance for Kim Ju-Young in the 42nd, but the defender whiffed on his shot. Though Wondolowski and Donovan nearly doubled the U.S.’s lead in the 43rd, Korea had the better of play over the half’s final quarter-hour.

A more even opening to the second half gave way to Wondolowski’s second at the hour mark, a goal created after Zusi got behind the Korean defense on a throw in. Brad Evans’ toss toward the right of the penalty saw Zusi let go of a cross moments before being closed down, with Wondolowski beating the Korean defense to beat Jung at the near post.

The brace ran Wondolowski’s international goals mark to eight, all of which have come since July 2013. After going scoreless in his first nine international appearances, Wondolowski has quickly shed a reputation for being unable to find goal at international level. Having built on the totals he amassed at last summer’s Gold Cup, questions now shift to whether the 2012 MLS MVP can score against high-level international competition. With two goals against a World Cup qualifier, “Wondo” made his best argument yet.

Over the match’s final half hour, neither Rimando nor Jung were meaningfully tested, with a late cross into the U.S.’s six-yard box the closest either team came to changing the 2-0 score. Instead, the biggest news of the match’s final moments was the debut of two U.S. hopes for the future. In the 75th minute, Seattle DeAndre Yedlin collected his first cap, replacing teammate Brad Evans. He was accompanied onto the field by Luis Gil, also making his first senior level appearance for the United States.

Lineups

United States: Nick Rimando; Brad Evans (DeAndre Yedlin 75′), Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler (Clarence Goodson 62′), Michael Parkhurst; Kyle Beckerman Mix Diskerud (Benny Feilhaber 62′); Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Brad Davis (Luis Gil 75′); Chris Wondolowski (Eddie Johnson 62′)

Goals: Wondolowski (4′, 60′)

South Korea: Jung Syung-Ryong; Kim Jin-Su (Tae-Hwan Kim 78′), Kim Yo-Young, Kim Kee-Hee, Lee Ho (Lee Seung-Ki 69′); Park Jong-Woo, Kim Min-Woo, Ko Yo-Han; Lee Keun-Ho (Seung-Ki Lee 69′), Kim Shin-Wook

  1. dfstell - Feb 1, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    Sorry….I’m still not wanting Wondo on the WC squad. The announcers kept talking about how he was doing it against “real opposition” this time. South Korea is 53rd in the world. They’re among the handfull of “worst teams in the World Cup”. They’re a nice team, but the announcers made it sound like they were a top 10 team.

    I’m just not convinced he can get to those balls against the world class defenders we’re going to face this summer. He’d be racing those those balls against guys like Mats Hummels and Hummels would get there first or muscle Wondo out of the way if he was second.

    I just don’t see it. And he doesn’t add anything else. Against some of these teams this summer, we’re going to be pinned back and will need a forward who we can hoof it to and hold it for 20 seconds to let the defense catch it’s breath (or be some minor threat to turn and run with the ball).

  2. mdac1012 - Feb 1, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    Next to Kyle Beckerman, no other U.S. Player probably generates a wider array of opinions on his ability than Wondo does. I don’t see him making the WC Roster unless there are a number of injuries to the guys in front of him on the pecking order and even then, it would be to just sit on the bench. AT this point in Wondo’s career we know what he is and that’s not going to change.

    He is a good guy and I would take him on my MLS team in a heartbeat but if he is on the field against Ghana, Germany or Portugal, things are going horribly wrong for the U.S.

    • midtec2005 - Feb 1, 2014 at 11:18 PM

      “Next to Kyle Beckerman, no other U.S. Player probably generates a wider array of opinions on his ability than Wondo does. ”

      I would argue that Beckerman is winning some people over (some), so Wondo is even more polarizing.

      Personally, I’m not sure what to think. He scores, but will he against a good team?

    • petertyler - Feb 2, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      Wondo’s a great player for home qualifiers and friendlies, but we have enough solid forwards for the big games.

      I was bummed to see Magee land on the pre-game roster but not even get a few minutes as a sub. If there’s a guy who deserves even just a few minutes to wear a Nats jersey, it’s him.

      I’d also have to think that if Twellman hadn’t got sidelined by concussions, we’d be seeing him at least getting called up for camp.

      • bear06 - Feb 3, 2014 at 12:32 AM

        Back in 2010 right?

  3. drewvt6 - Feb 1, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    Too bad for Wondo we don’t get to play any B-list teams at the world cup.

  4. jimmycrackcorn99 - Feb 1, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    My personal opinion as always with these types of games is don’t overrate it. Good win – yes – any international win is a positive thing, but there were lots of A/borderline B players on the pitch today. The best takeaway IMO is the clean sheet.

    Looking forward to seeing the match vs Ukraine (if there still is a Ukraine in March).

  5. rphillish - Feb 1, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    I don’t think there’s too much to be made of this game. It was good to see some players who will almost definitely going to Brazil as subs gets a full 90 minutes. Other than that, and more experience for Gonzales-Besler, what else is there to this game?
    That MLS is better than the K-League?

  6. mvktr2 - Feb 1, 2014 at 9:32 PM

    Most important thing for me was the overall team approach. This was a vastly different effort than we saw against …. Canada #whistelepastthegraveyard. In most cases what a coach thinks or how a player is evaluated is overwhelmingly achieved during training/coaching. For Wondo it’s a good sign that he started today over Eddie Johnson, a player most presume is going to Brazil because of clutch performance in qualifying and versatility. The two goals were icing on the cake. No matter if you’re Messi, Wondo, or me if you get 2 chances and one half chance and come away with 2 goals you had as fine a day as you could hope for. I’ll leave it up to Klinsmann to evaluate what he wants most in his strike corp. Wondo is a pure poacher whom reads the game well and has nice movement.

    Is that enough to make the 2014 WC squad? I don’t know.
    Do I wish there were better options? Yes.
    Do I think EJ is a better option? Yes.
    Do I want EJ melting down the locker room in Brazil? NO!

    Those are questions just as important as any talent evaluation that Klinsmann or any savvy coach will make.

    Zusi lit it up today! Evans not so much.

    • jimmycrackcorn99 - Feb 2, 2014 at 12:02 AM

      I am starting to wonder if EJ is the better option. I’m on the fence. I guess it comes down to whoever is best in form and healthy when the final squad is named (Boyd & Magee surely still in the running).

  7. midtec2005 - Feb 1, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    If Zusi starts in the WC and we do well, he could be looking at some serious money. He’s a clever, hardworking player.

    • mdac1012 - Feb 2, 2014 at 7:56 AM

      According to Sportrac Zusi made $140,00 last year, which is the bargain of all time.

      • mdac1012 - Feb 2, 2014 at 7:57 AM

        * $140,000

    • drewvt6 - Feb 3, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      Zusi really struggles with pace of the game against high level teams. He doesn’t have international level separation speed. He did not look like a great player when we played Belgium, Mexico, Germany, Bosnia and even Jamaica. Sure he can break a game with his free kicks and savvy but he struggles to keep up with the game most of the time.

  8. jay1934 - Feb 2, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    What makes you think Altidore and Dempsey can perform any better than Wondolowski and some of the other better players in yesterday’s game against the better teams in the World Cup. There’s no way any forward can perform well when the defenders pass the ball around in their half of the field and don’t get the ball up front.

  9. jucam1 - Feb 2, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    SK sent over its third team to play the USMTs second team. I cant see how this game changes Jurgen’s mind…. I like that he is getting younger guys some experience and getting the team ready for ’18, which is where all of his focus should be on. The US wont get out if their pool this year but if JK is focused on developing a strong team for Russia, i think the US can do some damage. Take the lessons of getting beat by Germany, Portugal, and hopefully beating Ghana and develop the team for world class competition in ’18… Jurgen wont have to deal with stiffs like Jozy, Donovan will be gone, and hopefully he can find a solid Bradley replacement. 2018 is what he should be preparing for, he’ll never admit it but that is his goal.

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