If this was four years ago, Chris Wondolowski
with his two goals in Saturday's 2-0 win over South Korea would
have put himself in prime position to earn a spot on the U.S. World Cup team. But he faces stiff competition in 2014.
The case against Wondo is simple: U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann
called in initial sets of five forwards for all four multiple World Cup qualifying dates in 2013, and Wondo was never among the seven different
players he called up: Jozy Altidore
(Sunderland/ENG) Clint Dempsey
(Seattle) Landon Donovan
(LA Galaxy) Aron Johannsson
(AZ/NED) Eddie Johnson
United) Terrence Boyd
(Rapid Vienna/AUT) Herculez Gomez
Of the seven, the World
Cup chances of only Gomez would seem to have faded. He has not been called up since the Gold Cup, where he played with an injured knee. Though he has gained a starting spot at Tijuana, he has not
scored in five games in the Torneo Clausura.
Klinsmann is likely to take no more than five forwards even if you classify Donovan as a forward and he ends up playing in midfield, like he
is likely to do if he is to start and doesn't beat out Dempsey for the second forward spot behind Altidore.
Johannsson wasn't even in the U.S. picture at this time a year ago, but he is a
lock, given his success at AZ (20 goals already in all competitions).
Despite his troubles at the end of the 2013 season at Seattle, Johnson has been a very reliable and versatile player
for Klinsmann, getting the winning goal that beat Mexico in Columbus and qualified the USA for the World Cup. He would begin the year as the likely fifth choice in Klinsmann's stable of forwards.
You can't rule out Boyd, though. He hasn't played a lot for Klinsmann, but he was called up for all but the September double fixture dates. Boyd has been scoring for Rapid Vienna (12 goals
so far this season) and he is the closest thing to a double for Altidore.
The knock on Wondo comes in the form of a back-handed compliment that all he does is score goals. He doesn't have
the speed or heading ability of Johnson or the strength of Boyd. But he does bring to team intangibles that Klinsmann cherishes.
Right now, Wondo would lose out in his bid to go to
Brazil, but Klinsmann has emphasized what players do with their clubs over the next three months -- what he and his staff see on the field and what they hear about from their club coaches at practice
and off the field -- will determine who he brings into the pre-World Cup to begin in mid-May.
For Wondolowski's part, a World Cup call-up would be special in so many ways. The pre-World
Cup camp is reportedly set be held in his backyard of Northern California. 2010. Bob Bradley
took six players
classified as forwards to the World Cup in South Africa: Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan and Gomez, plus Edson Buddle
Gomez, Buddle and Findley had not even played in any of the 14 World Cup qualifiers yet they all went to the World Cup.
The frontline picture changed on the
eve of the final qualifier against Costa Rica in Washington when Charlie Davies
was injured in a serious car accident that would rule him out of the World
Findley was the most similar in style to Davies and he ended up being Altidore's partner up front in three of the four gamees in South Africa. (Dempsey and Donovan both started in
Buddle was such a longshot that he wasn't even called into Bradley's January camp but made the World Cup team after getting to a hot start for the LA Galaxy. Gomez was at the
end of the line after he was released by Kansas City after the 2009 MLS season but a hot streak at Puebla earned him a share of the Mexican league scoring title and a berth on the U.S. World Cup team.