Chris Wondolowski did exactly what he needed Saturday, keeping his name in the conversation as Jurgen Klinsmann begins bearing down on the real nitty-gritty of those career making roster decisions.
Had Wondolowski not scored Saturday, in what may well have been his last U.S. starting assignment prior to roster decision time, the choice on the San Jose hitman would have been clear. But with two goals in the win over South Korea, credit the fellow for keeping this ball of debate in the air.
But as I’ve said before, it’s not enough to say “Chris Wondolowski deserves a roster spot.” If you believe so, that’s fine. But you should also say which U.S. striker doesn’t get to go in that case.
Here’s how that breaks down:
Klinsmann is likely to take six “forwards” if we count Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey as such. That’s exactly as it happened in 2010, when the forwards were Dempsey, Donovan, Jozy Alditore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez.
So it seems safe to assume at this point something quite similar. Heck, you could even make the case that Klinsmann, more 4-3-3 than 4-4-2 in basic alignment preferences, could take just three pure strikers, preferring an extra man more comfortable working the flanks.
But if it’s four (beyond Dempsey and Donovan), here’s how they probably stack up at the moment:
1. Jozy Altidore
2. Aron Johannsson
3. Eddie Johnson
You could quibble with the ordering, but based on lineups and camp rosters, it seems clear that these are Klinsmann’s top front runners of the moment. Barring injuries or loss of form, that leaves one spot. The candidates are:
Magee is a longshot; like Wondolowski, he needed to get into Saturday’s match and make a big, loud statement. Unfortunately, a bout of food poisoning undid Magee’s opportunity.
But Boyd is well thought of, and doing well at Rapid Vienna. Gomez was a Klinsmann favorite, whose effort and attitude was appreciated along with the talent, before injuries took him out of the scene for a while. If he goes on a run in Liga MX, the Tijuana man becomes a heavy favorite to bump into that fearsome of foursome of travelers into Brazil.
So there it is, Wonder Wondo supporters. Your guy has kept himself in the thick of things – but he still has some miles to travel before making serious plans to spend his summer in Brazil.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.