[USA MEN]With his performance in Tuesday night’s Gold Cup opener against Belize, Chris Wondolowski made sure everyone knew his name, even if U.S. Soccer’s kit manager was not quite sure on its spelling.
By now, much has been made of the extra “W” added to the surname on the back of the forward’s jersey -- equipment manager Jesse Bignami even tweeted out a photo of Wondo and him having a good laugh after the game -- but one cannot overlook the rare feat “Wondowlowski” pulled off Tuesday night.
With his three first-half goals in the 6-1 win over Belize, Wondo, the nickname bestowed on him by San Jose Earthquakes fans, notched the first hat trick for the U.S. men’s national team since Landon Donovan against Scotland in May 2012. To make his performance more impressive, Wondolowski completed his hat trick in the first half, an accomplishment not matched since American legend Brian McBride did so against El Salvador in the 2002 Gold Cup.
Wondolowski’s three-goal outburst showed national team fans something that Earthquakes fans have known for the past four years: the man can score goals. Wondolowski joined the Earthquakes from the Houston Dynamo in June 2009 after managing just four goals in 37 MLS appearances for the Dynamo.
The 2010 season, Wondolowski’s first full year with the Quakes, proved to be a turning point in the forward’s career, as he won the MLS Golden Boot, bursting onto the MLS scene with 18 goals.
And the 2010 season was no fluke for Wondo as the following year he finished the season tied with Dwayne De Rosario atop the MLS goal-scoring chart with 16 goals apiece. Wondolowski saved his finest performance for 2012 when he tied the MLS all-time single-season goal record with 27, matching Roy Lassiter’s total from MLS’s inaugural season in 1996. Although San Jose was unable to turn their Supporters’ Shield winning ways into MLS Cup success, Wondolowski’s individual efforts culminated in him being named the 2012 MLS MVP.
Wondolowski’s Golden Boot winning campaign in 2010 led to his first cap for the USA in a January 2011 friendly against Chile, and then to a spot on the USA's Gold Cup squad later that same year.
Despite Wondolowski’s prolific scoring tallies for his club side, Wondo’s career with the national team appeared destined to follow in the footsteps of Taylor Twellman and Jeff Cunningham: lethal MLS strikers unable to replicate this form for the Stars and Stripes.
Although he made three appearances at the Gold Cup and created several chances for himself, the Quakes forward was unable to log his first international goal, and even squandered an opportunity against Panama that appeared harder to miss than make.
Wondolowski’s success at the club level, however, made him impossible for Jurgen Klinsmann to ignore, and after nine caps Wondo finally rewarded his coach’s faith in him with his first international goal in the Yanks' 6-0 romp of Guatemala on July 5.
But Wondo wasn’t finished. Although Herculez Gomez was expected to be the USA’s starting striker at the Gold Cup, Klinsmann handed Wondolowski a surprise start to spare Gomez’s ailing knee from Jeld-Wen Field’s artificial turf.
Three first-half goals later, the 30-year-old Wondolowski has given Klinsmann a big decision to make ahead of Saturday’s clash with Cuba in Utah.
Granted, Wondolowski’s hat trick came against Belize -- ranked 102 spots below the USA in FIFA’s latest ranking -- but depending on what formation Klinsmann elects to play, don’t be surprised to see the San Jose forward in the starting XI, either by himself as a target striker or alongside another forward in Gomez or Donovan.
While one should not expect Wondolowski to push Jozy Altidore for his starting spot up front, the Gold Cup gives Wondo an opportunity to press for inclusion in the next slate of World Cup qualifiers.
Since his tenure began as national team coach, Klinsmann has found depth hard to come by, and an in-form, confident Wondolowski would certainly be a valuable asset for the German coach to have at his disposal.
The Gold Cup will provide a great opportunity for the Earthquakes striker, and if he can continue to bring the same goal-scoring prowess “Wondowlowski” showed against Belize, a ticket to Brazil next summer may not be out of the question.