COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) As a youngster in Hawaii, the significance of the World Cup never dawned on forward Bobby Wood. Full disclosure: He didn’t even know what it was.
He understands now.
With his balky back feeling better, Wood hopes to provide a spark for the Americans as the squad resumes the final round of World Cup qualifying. He’s been playing hurt in high-stress games with Hamburg, which wasn’t assured of Bundesliga survival until the last day of the season.
A chance for him to exhale – if for only a moment. A week after the end of his first Bundesliga season, he reported to the U.S. national team ahead of Saturday’s exhibition against Venezuela. After that: World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago at Commerce City on June 8 and at Mexico three days later.
“It’s always good to be back here – to be back with the boys,” Wood said.
Having become a regular in the starting lineup alongside Jozy Altidore, Wood missed a pair of qualifiers in March due to his aching back, which he said is still “a little bit naggy here and there,” but calmed through treatment and exercise.
“I’m healthy,” he said.
Introduced to soccer while growing up in Hawaii, he didn’t know the importance of World Cup because, “back in the day, they didn’t show so much soccer. You didn’t have it all the time on normal TV. It was more difficult to get all that information on the island.”
Naturally, his feelings have intensified.
“I’m honored to have the chance to possibly be at the World Cup,” Wood said. “I’m going to give it my all and try and help the team get there.”
While he was sidelined, the U.S. earned a win and a draw to move into fourth place in the six-team final round of North and Central America and the Caribbean. There are six games remaining, and the top three teams qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia. The fourth-place squad will go to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.
“I was pretty confident the team would get the job done,” said Wood, who was bothered by knee injuries earlier in his career that had him considering stepping away from soccer. “I thought they did a really good job getting the result.”
Wood is one of four forwards competing for playing time, along with Altidore, Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey, who also could be dropped into an attacking midfield role. Wood has been soaking up as much knowledge as he can from Dempsey, who is one goal from tying Landon Donovan (57) for most in U.S. national team history.
“You can learn a lot from an experienced player,” Wood said. “That’s why he’s there. I’ll try to pick off whatever he’s got for me.”
Not that long ago, the 24-year-old Wood met with U.S. coach Bruce Arena in Germany to discuss the expectations for him and the team.
“Very smooth, direct,” Wood said of their meeting. “It was good.”
Just be himself: That was essentially Arena’s message.
“He’s a little different than our other strikers. That’s a real plus,” Arena said. “The four guys we’re going to have in camp, they’re good strikers and we can certainly utilize all of them.”
Wood was off to a solid start for Hamburg and scored the game-winner against Borussia Moenchengladbach on March 12. He didn’t score in his final nine games, leaving his final totals at five goals in 28 Bundesliga matches plus four in four cup games.
His coach, Markus Gisdol, recently said Wood was playing through a knee injury that required painkillers, according to Kicker.
All the while, Hamburg was trying to remain in the first tier. It is the only club to have played every season in the top tier since the Bundesliga’s formation in 1963, and it took Luca Waldschmidt’s 88th-minute goal in a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg on May 20 to keep the streak going.
“The last 15 games were like a final for us,” Wood said. “It was very exciting but tough. I’m just happy we got through it.”