Photo by Jane Gershovich/Soccer By Ives
BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- When Chris Wondolowski took the pitch Tuesday night, he did so with an extra “W” incorrectly placed in his last name on his U.S. Men’s National Team jersey. After his performance in the first half, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Wondolowski add a 12th letter to his last name for every match.
After getting the surprise start over Herculez Gomez, Wondolowski made the most of his opportunity by scoring a goal for every “W” on his jersey, on the way to a first-half hat-trick in the USMNT’s 6-1 victory over at Jeld-Wen Field.
Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Wondolowski has been on a torrid scoring pace for the San Jose Earthquakes, notching 66 goals in 107 games for the California club. Despite his league success, the 2012 MLS MVP has been unable to replicate his form with the national team. Wondolowski was unable to score a goal in any of his first 11 U.S. appearances.
The Chico State alum finally broke through in last Friday’s victory over Guatemala when he scored the third goal in the 6-0 romp. That goal seemed to open the floodgates and Wondolowski’s goal total now sits at a respectable four goals in 11 appearances for the USMNT.
“It’s a funny thing as a striker, sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t but hopefully they keep coming,” Wondolowski said.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann knows a thing or two about scoring as a striker, having put home more than 275 goals in his playing career for club and country, and he had nothing but praise for Wondolowski after Tuesday’s outstanding showing.
“A goal-scorer always comes out in the moments where he realizes the extra work will pay off and I think it pays off for Wondo that he’s so dedicated and (has) such a great attitude that scored his first one the other day in San Diego and followed up with next ones,” Klinnsman said. “That’s what a goal-scorer is about: Always hungry, never kind of let a chance slip away.”
Wondolowski admitted that his lack of goals for the national side had started to wear on him.
“I think there was a little bit of frustration, because then you start pressing a little bit, and I know when I start pressing, it doesn’t happen,” Wondolowski said. “I’m better when I just relax and let the game come to myself and just rely on my teammates, and they did a fantastic job and made my job easier.”
While Wondolowski isn’t currently a favorite to make the 2014 World Cup roster, he is certainly trying everything he can to make the trip to Brazil. Hat tricks certainly won’t hurt his cause.
“I’m willing to go down swinging and try to get there as best I can and just try and make the most of any opportunity I can get,” Wondolowski said.
Wondolowski is battling with players such as Herculez Gomez and fellow MLS player Eddie Johnson for a spot on the 2014 roster. Wondolowski wouldn’t be the first MLS player to use a Gold Cup to propel himself into a World Cup spot. Stuart Holden, then of the Houston Dynamo, had a breakout 2009 Gold Cup and never looked back on the way to South Africa.
“It makes us coaches happy, obviously, and he builds his own case,” Klinsmann said. “I never saw him frustrated. Always just a hard-working attitude, always giving everything he has, and it’s just a joy to work with.”
For now, Wondolowski was just happy to finally get a victory in Portland. Despite tying the MLS record for goals in a single season while playing at Jeld-Wen Field, the stadium has been a house of horrors for Wondolowski. Prior to Tuesday win, Wondolowski had never been on the winning side in his four previous visits to the Rose City.
Getting adored by fans in Portland was a sharp contrast to the usual crowd the greets Wondolowski at Jeld-Wen.
“Usually I get the opposite of (cheering). These fans are amazing here and they provide such an atmosphere, that is great no matter what,” Wondolowski said.
With the three goals, Wondolowski became the third USMNT player to have a hat trick in the Gold Cup, joining Donovan and Brian McBride. And as for that extra “W” in his name, Wondolowski had a new kit for the second half start that featured the correct spelling of his name.
No matter how you spell his name, Wondolowski delivered the best performance of national team career.