By Ridge Mahoney
San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowskishook of the demons of missed chances wearing the U.S. jersey earlier in his career by firing a pair of accurate strikes as the Americans opened their 2014 campaign with a 2-0 win Saturday at StubHub Center.
A lot of U.S. players on the bubble toiled for long stretches against South Korea, which sent mostly domestic players for a three-game tour during which it beat Costa Rica, 1-0, and suffered a 4-0 thumping by Mexico prior to facing the Americans. Here are a few thoughts of what transpired:
WONDO POWER.A reputation as destroyer of weak national teams and squanderer against better competition has hounded Wondolowski for the past couple of years, and while he missed connections with teammates several times during sequences, he drilled his best two opportunities.
He struck in the fourth minute to put the USA ahead, latching onto the rebound of a Brad Davisclose-range attempt, and scored again when a deflected Graham Zusi cross from the right wing fell right to his feet and ended up in the top corner. Five of his six goals last year came against Belize and Cuba, and again the caliber of competition will be questioned.
Wondolowski misfired three times in the first half trying to work combinations with Landon Donovan, whose range and activity opened up space in several areas of the field that the Americans exploited. It’s likely Wondolowski will have to wait at least two months for another outing, assuming a proposed friendly with Mexico occurs. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will most likely take European-based players for the match in Ukraine next month.
ZEUS MOMENTS.The jury will be out on Wondolowski regardless of these two goals. On the other hand, Graham Zusi turned in another performance rife with threats. His two crosses resulted in the two goals, and his ball that Davis turned into the rebound from which Wondolowski score again demonstrated what he can bring the attack from either side; he also played on the left and tested the South Korean defense from that side as well.
The low ball that produced the second goal wasn’t one of his best efforts but still caught the defense off balance. He can deliver a variety of balls at differing heights, angles and distances, and though he ballooned one well over the bar in the first half, there were more than enough good attacking moments.
BUSY NICK.Jurgen Klinsmann surely wanted a stouter defensive performance, and the Americans were somewhat lucky to get the shutout. Rustiness caused some scuffed clearances and clearcut missed assignments that required desperation tackles.
Yet keeper Nick Rimandodeserved the zero in front of his hometown fans; he dove into a tangle of players to smother a near-post header from a corner kick in the first half, and the match ended in stoppage time when he went down again as an attacker raced at him. Aside from one bobble when he let a bouncing shot rebound off his chest, the Real Salt Lake keeper dealt with a lot of balls and heavy traffic as the Americans struggled to contain an active, aggressive opponent.
The third keeper is seldom called upon in a World Cup, yet Rimando is a valuable asset off the field. Enthusiastic, personable and still on his game at age 35 -- he will turn 36 during the World Cup -- he has the experience and leadership that will come in handy during a long stretch that will span six weeks and at least six matches, counting the three domestic preparation games.