Revisiting the Chris Wondolowski argument, now in a bigger and better context

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The book on Chris Wondolowski has usually read like this: sensational striker in league play who may be stretched to make an impact internationally.

It’s really not an awful thing to pin on someone; nobody is accusing the man of drowning kittens here. Taylor Twellman and Jason Kries were other examples of terrific strikers in Major League Soccer who probably reached their top level in league soccer.

Only, with Wondolowski, a few fans and a selected bunch from the chattering class got caught up in the moment and lost some larger context recently. The Earthquakes’ forward did hit six goals in three matches – but the quality of competition was league level. Given international caliber service and backed by international level teammates, Wondolowski is certainly capable of doing the business against overmatched regional small fries.

But it always looked like typical sports overreaction, this flawed tendency to make big, sweeping judgments from every match. (Or, in this case, the false bottom of a short series of them.)

So a week ago, some people were already handing him a ticket to Brazil. Very prematurely so. I wrote as much six days ago.

Now here we are today with two more samples to study. Wondolowski went 77 minutes last week against Costa Rica and then 60 on Sunday against El Salvador. Total goals: zero.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States vs. El Salvador)

He wasn’t awful, not by any stretch. “Wondo” is just not the difference maker that Landon Donovan is. He’s not the athlete that Eddie Johnson is. He doesn’t have the ability to create on his own the way some others in the U.S. player pool can. Wondolowski’s game gets somewhat limited at international level.

Here’s what MLSSoccer.com’s player ratings had to say: “One simple assist pass aside, Wondo was often either stranding himself from the offense or slowing it down. It didn’t help his cause that Eddie Johnson replaced him with such a strong display.”

The New York Times was more harsh still in its ratings. “Never seemed to find a place in the quick-moving U.S. attack.”  Jeff Carlisle at ESPN FC did like the striker’s link-up play, offering that is “was miles better than it was against Costa Rica, as he set up Corona’s goal and sprung Donovan with a telling through ball.” But he also noted the struggle “with some of El Salvador’s physical antics.”

It’s not over; two matches remain. The problem is Johnson, the Seattle Sounders’ striker scored immediately upon coming on Sunday. He seems certain to start in Wednesday’s semifinal, which means the San Jose man’s minutes will dwindle fast.

As I also wrote last week, roster spots are always a zero-sum game; for every roster winner there is a roster loser, in other words. Wondolowski may or may not make the final 23 for Brazil, but you have to circle the man you want knocked aside.

Jurgen Klinsmann pattern of player selection says that Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson are all ahead of Wondolowski in the forward depth  pool. (Depending on how you want to count Dempsey, that is.) Landon Donovan is, too; we can probably all agree on that.

Today, Joe Corona looks more likely to make the roster than Wondolowski, even if he is  playing a slightly different position. Either way, it’s a roster spot, and that’s one more obstacle in a very good forward’s path to Brazil.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.