SAN JOSE (CBS/AP) – For years, Chris Wondolowski waited for this chance. He kept pushing through training as he was passed over to play for his country, hoping the opportunity would eventually come.
All the while, he kept scoring goals.
Now that he has finally gained some valuable experience with the U.S. national team and proven to be a reliable playmaker up front, Wondolowski’s next challenge will be making the 23-man World Cup roster for this year’s tournament in Brazil.
So far, he is doing everything in his power land a spot. He scored both U.S. goals in a 2-0 win against South Korea on Feb. 1 and is likely to be on the roster for the April 2 exhibition against Mexico at Glendale, Ariz.
“I’m going to try to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s helped get me here for a reason, so I can’t change it, can’t try to press too hard,” he said. “Let it happen. That’s what they tell you, just continue to try to get better and continue and try to improve in all aspects and keep that going.”
He hopes to keep that momentum going with the Earthquakes, who open Sunday against Colorado. The Americans are using a mostly Europe-based roster for Wednesday’s exhibition against Ukraine in Cyprus.
When Wondolowski left the U.S. national team and returned to the Earthquakes last month following the game and a 2 1/2-week training camp in Sao Paulo, American coach Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t want him to change much but to keep improving. In 2012, the coaches wanted Wondolowski to work on his first touch, and now some minor work with his back to the goal.
“Wondo’s Wondo. He scores goals, he does a lot of the dirty work,” said defender Clarence Goodson, Wondolowski’s teammate on the U.S. and Earthquakes. “He does a lot of things that don’t show up on the scoreboard, but still he scores a heck of a lot of goals. That’s something that every single team needs, and that’s all he can do. Every time he goes on the national team, he scores goals. What else can he do from his perspective?”
Earthquakes coach Mark Watson is convinced Wondolowski’s best soccer is ahead, and that’s saying something for a forward who turned 31 in January.
While Wondolowski won’t necessarily say it, Watson knows past slights have only fueled his star forward even more.
After training with the national team in 2010 ahead of an exhibition game against Chile, Wondolowski got his first real chance in a January 2011 camp. He has scored eight goals in 18 matches with the Americans — five of those during the Americans’ run to the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship last July. That included a first-half hat trick in a 6-1 victory against Belize on July 9, when he became the third American to score three goals in a Gold Cup game.
“It was driving him to this level internationally, which is pretty unheard of, someone 30 and still coming on,” Watson said. “It is a great story, but I think anyone who does end up playing for their country, anyone who does make that final roster cut, they deserve it. I think everyone knows what kind of player Wondo is. He’s a 100-percent guy every day in training. In terms of work rate, I don’t think anyone can match him. We know why he will be on that team, it’s because he scores goals.”
Wondolowski has eight goals in his last nine appearances with the national team.
“Wondo is a wonderful example of (what happens) if you are committed, if you’re hungry, if you give everything you have over a long period of time,” Klinsmann said last month. “Sooner or later, you’re going to get rewarded for it. It’s nice to see a player like him is still hungry.”
Yet last season with San Jose, Wondolowski took some of the blame for the Earthquakes missing the MLS playoffs. He insists he missed key scoring chances and must do a better job finishing. His 11 league goals were his lowest total in four years; a year earlier he scored a career-best 27.
Watson is unconcerned.
“He’s done it the last four years in MLS and he’s got a pretty good streak with the national team,” Watson said. “He showed it once again with two very opportunistic goals against South Korea.”
Wondolowski has proven to himself — and so many others — he thrives on the big stage of international competition. In the meantime, he wants to carry that into a bounce-back year with his club team.
There’s plenty going on in his personal life these days. On Dec. 23, he and wife Lindsey welcomed a baby girl, Emersyn. His experience with the national team has been a big boost professionally.
“I feel like I have a great base,” Wondolowski said. “I have a lot of confidence that I can play at a high level and hopefully I can bring it here and continue that. There’s a lot of positives from it and I’m going to take those back here with the Earthquakes and implement them here. That’s always my goal. I had a blast with it. I love playing at any level, especially when it’s the highest I thoroughly enjoy it. Whatever happens, happens. Until then, just try to play to the best of my ability.”
© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.