SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Chris Wondolowski didn’t have to travel far when he got the call to join the U.S. national team ahead of two key World Cup qualifiers.
The U.S. will be playing Honduras on the home field of Wondolowski’s San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night as the Americans look to bounce back from an 0-2 start in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
“To represent your country is the ultimate pinnacle, especially as a soccer player in a World Cup qualifier in your hometown,” Wondolowski said. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. I’m very excited. I’m very honored to be a part of such a big game. It’s not necessarily the place we want to be, but it is an exciting place for U.S. Soccer right now. We have meaningful games in meaningful places.”
And Wondolowski might need to play a meaningful role with the U.S. short-handed at forward headed into the games against Honduras and then at Panama next Tuesday. Bobby Wood is out with a back injury, Jordan Morris has not practiced this week because of an ankle injury and Clint Dempsey said he might not be able to play 90 minutes after missing the final four months of the 2016 MLS season due to an irregular heartbeat.
That leaves just Jozy Altidore and Wondolowski as the only healthy forwards. The 34-year-old Wondolowski didn’t know whether he would get another chance at World Cup qualifying.
He didn’t get his first call-up to the national team until six years ago despite a prolific MLS career. He has played 35 international games, including two at the 2014 World Cup.
Wondolowski has scored 11 goals for the national team, but is most remembered for one he missed in the round of 16 against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. With the game scoreless late in regulation, he had a chance at a game-winner but shot over the crossbar from inside the 6-yard box.
The U.S. lost 2-1 in overtime and Wondolowski has not played in any 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“If you play well at the club level, you figure you can get a chance,” he said. “You never know if that will keep happening. You always have to cherish the times that you have.”
Wondolowski has done that by scoring 28 goals the past two seasons for the Earthquakes and one so far this season in three games. He doesn’t know if he will get a chance to play but has already been a valuable resource for his familiarity with the home stadium.
“They’ve been asking me about the field, the atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t have enough adjectives to tell them how great it is. The atmosphere you feel, the presence that the crowd provides throughout the game will lift you. It’s an amazing pitch, amazing fans, and hopefully we can get three points.”
After the losses to Mexico and Costa Rica last November that led to coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing and the return of Bruce Arena as coach, the U.S. has little margin for error.
The Americans are in last place in the six-team group that will send the top three teams to Russia in 2018 and the fourth into a playoff with the fifth-place nation from Asia.
“Some games you go in and you’re trying to implement things and work on your style,” Wondolowski said. “We’re worried about three points. Pretty, ugly, it doesn’t matter. Just grind it out any way possible.”
MLS (late-night) roundup: HOU hammer CLB; MTL blow late lead to SEA
Photo credit: Houston Dynamo / Twitter: @HoustonDynamo
If you don’t know about the #BabyDynamo, it’s time you familiarize yourself with Wilmer Cabrera’s young (average age of attacking players used on Saturday: 23.4), attack-minded (five goals scored through two games) side. Erick (no longer “Cubo”) Torres has two goals in two games after his stunner completed Saturday’s rout of Columbus; Romell Quioto is the early leader in the clubhouse for Newcomer of the Year after bagging his second in two games; and Alberth Elis looked far more comfortable in his second MLS game, tallying his first goal since arriving in the offseason.
Ola Kamara notched Columbus’s consolation goal, his first of 2017, late into second-half stoppage time.
Montreal Impact 2-2 Seattle Sounders
Seattle’s MLS Cup hangover continued, for 60 minutes at least, as Montreal raced out to a comfortable 2-0 lead on the hard, bouncy artificial playing surface at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Ignacio Piatti’s inch-perfect through ball set up Matteo Mancosu for the game’s opening goal in the 17th minute, but it Piatti’s individual effort, racing 50 yards with the ball at his feet before firing past Stefan Frei from 20 yards out, six minutes after halftime which stole the spotlight until very late on.
Jordan Morris went down to win a penalty for Seattle with fewer than 10 minutes remaining in the second half, and Nicolas Lodeiro converted to make it 2-1. Montreal held their slender margin deep into stoppage time, but Will Bruin, having entered the game just eight minutes earlier, turned home a loose ball from five yards out to snatch the defending champions’ first point of 2017.
From 2-0 down after 17 minutes, to a man up after 23 minutes, to 3-2 up after 79 minutes — just like that — San Jose are level with Houston for the Western Conference’s top spot.
Erik Hurtado and Nicolas Mezquida put the visitors ahead early on, but David Ousted got himself sent off for taking down Chris Wondolowski in the open field, and the comeback was on. Wondolowski pulled one back just after the half-hour mark, before notching the assist on Nick Lima’s first MLS goal nine minutes after halftime, and Anibal Godoy made it 3-2 with 11 minutes of regular time remaining.
With FCD opting to field a largely second-team squad (CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg on Wednesday), Sporting KC enjoyed over 68 percent of the game’s possession, as the defending Supporters’ Shield winners — average age of 14 players used on Saturday: 24.1 — proved too well-drilled and disciplined to allow a clear-cut scoring chance all night. Oscar Pareja leads the “play your kids” movement, and with very good reason: they’re an extremely talented, mature bunch.
For the most part, the Yanks escaped the bumpy, cratered field at the Estadio Pedro Marrero in Havana without incident. Christian Pulisic was clattered by hard challenges on numerous occasions in the first half, and was subbed off after 45 minutes. Steve Birnbaum was less fortunate, as the D.C. United defender received studs to the top of his head, opening up a gushing wound with 10 minutes left to go in the game.
All three of the USMNT’s first-half shots on target came via Green, a surprise inclusion in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting lineup. The best of the bunch played out in the 23rd minute, when the Bayern Munich youngster broke down the left flank, cut into the penalty area, cut back toward the end line, and fired a left-footed shot low, but right at Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez, who made the kick save with the ball headed for the far post.
Cuba nearly opened the scoring long after, in the 28th minute, Roberney Caballero unleashed a speculative effort from from outside the penalty area. The ball looked headed for the inside of the far post, but 21-year-old goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, the youngest player to start in goal for the USMNT since 1994 (Zach Thornton), which occurred before Horvath was born, got fingertips to the ball and pushed it wide.
Maikel Reyes went inches from giving Cuba the lead just before the hour mark. The Cruz Azul striker raced down the right side of the field and into the penalty area, where he unloaded on Horvath with a shot to the near post, but came up with only woodwork as the ball clanged off the inside of the post and shot across the face of goal behind an unknowing Horvath.
Three minutes later, in the 62nd, the Yanks were on the scoreboard. Green cut inside from the left wing to fire a right-footed shot at Sanchez, who made the initial save. The rebound, unfortunately for Sanchez, fell right to the feet of Wondolowski, who hammered the ball into an empty net for the 11th goal of his international career.
Green grabbed a goal of his own — deservedly so, it must be said — to make it 2-0 in the 71st minute. It was Wondolowski who provided the assist, a simple cross across the face of goal with Green in all alone at the back post.
The USMNT’s final game before its World Cup qualifying showdown with Mexico, in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 11, will be a friendly against New Zealand at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., (8 p.m. ET) on Tuesday.
The reality check was a stiff one for those who believe the United States of America should compete on the same level with the world’s best, and overshadowed what was a goal-meeting, encouraging run into the Final Four of a legendary and difficult tournament.
For those who see the USMNT as a project, it was still tough to swallow. A semifinal is a terrific result, but could tactics have helped against Argentina? Were these our best players? Should we have expected more from Jurgen Klinsmann?
And what about the players? That’s the question we’ll answer today, as we evaluate the USMNT’s 23 men from a memorable tournament.
Kyle Beckerman Tournament dossier: 4 matches, 1 start, 90 mins total He’s served the States well in the past, but his days being useful against dangerous attacking teams seem behind him. Woeful in a tough spot against Argentina (Rating: 4.5)
Alejandro Bedoya Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 399 mins 3 shots, 2 yellow cards, 10 fouls committed, 2 fouls suffered An integral part of the team and a big reason the Argentina match was lopsided, Bedoya nonetheless did not have the impact we’ve come to expect from the Nantes man (Rating: 6)
Matt Besler Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 2 starts, 180 mins Did a job under tough circumstances, and could be a left back option for the 2018 World Cup if no one steps forward (Rating: 6)
Steve Birnbaum Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 31 mins Limited appearances, and one big mistake. Happy to go with letters here for a promising player (Rating: N/A)
John Brooks Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 450 mins It’s too early to say he’s come into his own, but Brooks belonged on the all-tournament team after showing a lot more wisdom in positions and decisions. (Rating: 9)
Michael Bradley Tournament dossier: 6 matches, 6 starts, 529 mins 2 shots His 12 crosses were almost unrivaled on the team, with DeAndre Yedlin the only other player with more than four (eight). The motor was still going for one of the country’s all-time players, but at times he was surprisingly bewildered. The giveaways were alarming, and perhaps there’s an argument for using him further up the pitch. Offensive production was limited. (Rating: 5)
Geoff Cameron Tournament dossier: Played every minute Versatile and at times dominant, Cameron showed us he could’ve been the difference in last summer’s Gold Cup. (Rating: 8)
Clint Dempsey Tournament dossier: 6 matches, 6 starts, 460 mins
3 goals, 2 assists, 19 shots, 7 on goal
Does this guy live for the summer or what? The ex-Fulham and Spurs man buried big shot after big shot one year after scoring a career best nine international goals. Consider these numbers:
Before Klinsmann: 22 goals in 75 caps
After Klinsmann: 30 goals in 55 caps (Rating: 9)
Brad Guzan Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 450 mins, 18 saves Led the tournament in saves and starred in several matches, including the stirring win over Paraguay, but had a couple rough matches along the way. Overall, he was strong enough to suit the side’s needs. (Rating: 6.5)
Tim Howard Tournament dossier: 1 match, 1 start, 90 mins Only got to play one game as the younger Guzan gets every chance to show he can be a World Cup starter. Was dynamite (Rating: 8)
Fabian Johnson Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 450 mins, four shots Some fits and starts for the left back, which is understandable considering how often he plays left wing for his club. That said, as we’ve seen with David Alaba at Austria, as a star and versatile player you have to fill the biggest need for your national team. Johnson did fine with that (Rating: 7)
Jermaine Jones Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 388 mins, 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 shots, two yellow cards, red card Loses a point for his red card, which looks worse and worse upon review. Still, he’s shown an ageless quality in athleticism, his guile is emblematic of the team, and he’s going to make the World Cup roster unless the USMNT fails to make the tourney or he suffers a major injury (Rating: 7)
Darlington Nagbe Tournament dossier: 3 matches, 47 mins Has the misfortune of being behind a well-function three-man midfield, and has done well enough for us to ask whether he’ll get a look over or next to Bradley in the next friendly.
Michael Orozco Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 1 start, 129 mins, two yellow cards While we still would’ve liked to see Eric Lichaj or another full back who could hold his own over Orozco, he didn’t kill anything. Yes, even with his silly red card against Colombia (Rating: 5).
Christian Pulisic Tournament dossier: 3 matches, 85 mins Looked dangerous, promising, lovely… and 17. Will be a force one day, and the experience will help him (Rating: 6)
Chris Wondolowski Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 1 start, 57 mins His form in MLS hinted that he might be able to do a job for the Yanks, but he was statuesque at times and unfit as a hold-up player at the Copa America Centenario level. We don’t want to beat down one of the all-time good stories in USMNT, so let’s move onto this —
Please get well soon: Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd or Jozy Altidore.
See you soon: Jordan Morris, Jerome Kiesewetter
Improve: Julian Green, Fafa Picault
Please write letters to Jurgen: C.J. Sapong, Mike Grella, maybe even Will Bruin (Rating: 3.5)
Bobby Wood Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 399 mins, 1 goal, 5 shots, 13 fouls suffered, 11 committed If Wood’s finish was on point, he would’ve potted 4-5 goals and been the breakout start of the tournament. That aside, he was borderline dominant and the embodiment of what U.S. fans want to see in their strikers (You know, aside from the goals) (Rating: 8).
DeAndre Yedlin Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 408 mins red card, nine fouls committed He’s much, much improved and still has a long way to go. The motor is fine, and the speed is wonderful. You can tell he gained savvy in defense under Sam Allardyce at Sunderland, but still has to learn tricks of the trade like when a player like Carlos Bacca is going to give that little tug that pushes him to a razor-thin goal (Rating: 6.5)
Graham Zusi Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 1 start, 138 mins 1 goal, 1 shot on goal Not going to be the first name on the team sheet any time soon, but could prove to be one of the unsung heroes of a dicey time in USMNT history. His work in the big win over Guatemala kickstarted a rebirth of sorts that prove Klinsmann knows he has an asset in Zusi (Rating: 6).
Gyasi Zardes Tournament dossier: 6 matches, 6 starts, 539 mins
1 goal, 1 assist, 6 shots, 11 fouls suffered The most difficult player to judge in American soccer history? Klinsmann keeps trotting the big man out there despite matches where his body never catches up to his brain. It’s clear he has a great understanding of the game and is improving in wonderful ways. If only his first touch — which is not being criticized too harshly, could improve a bit — he’d be a 1-2 punch with Zardes that would overwhelm most back lines in CONCACAF. (Rating: 6)
The U.S. national team’s run at the 2016 Copa America Centenario is over (mostly — they’ll still play the loser of Colombia versus Chile in the third-place game on Saturday). It should be said, before anything else, that the Yanks reached Jurgen Klinsmann’s stated goal in advancing all the way to the semifinals.
On the whole, this tournament was a success for a USMNT that so badly needed a run of positive results in order to re-establish a semblance of excitement and intrigue around U.S. Soccer. In that vein, it was a success. In wondering whether or not it means a step forward for the program, much less is clear…
The lineup was wrong, but we knew that (Part 1)
Disclaimer: No lineup Klinsmann could have selected would have resulted in anything even marginally better than what transpired Tuesday night. Inversely, no lineup Klinsmann could have selected would have resulted in a performance worse than the one we witnessed Tuesday night.
Kyle Beckerman as one half of a midfield-two versus Argentina? It’s easily the most offensive thing Klinsmann has done in his five years as USMNT head coach — and there have been some doozies. Klinsmann failed to realize this game would be too fast for a 34-year-old defensive midfielder who only ever sits in front of the backline. That’s a serious problem.
Not only is it an obvious misstep on paper and in theory, but has been such in practice on a number of occasions over the last 24 months. I wish I didn’t see this coming, but…
Not-so-bold prediction: Beckerman starts tomorrow night, never plays for #USMNT again. #USAvARG
In the year 2016, Chris Wondolowski started a semifinal against Argentina in a major tournament. With Bobby Wood suspended, we all knew Klinsmann would pick Wondolowski rather than moving Gyasi Zardes, an athletic, physical forward who actually complements Clint Dempsey (sort of), up top. Wondolowski’s a canny operator inside the penalty, but here’s the problem: the ball just about never got into Argentina’s penalty area, where he excels. Instead, that photo at right is the entirety of his contributions on the night. Over the course of 90 minutes, the USMNT failed to register a single shot. Not a shot on goal — a shot. Not great!
How I’d have done it, because someone will demand to know: Zardes starts up top; Graham Zusi plays wide right; Fabian Johnson starts wide left; Matt Besler starts at left back. Far from ideal, but functional.
What made the defense so strong in the USMNT’s victory over Ecuador was the (essentially) three-man backline of Besler, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Three mobile center backs, they’re capable of covering a lot of ground and stepping into passing lanes after making smart reads. Alejandro Bedoya, who was suspended against Argentina, served as the de facto left back, shielding Besler, actually a central defender, while deployed wider than usual. It was a wise tactical wrinkle from Klinsmann. Johnson, for everything he is as an attacker, isn’t a great defender, so throwing him back out wide to defend Lionel Messi was unwise in hindsight.
Messi is the greatest, and it was a pleasure losing to him
What is there to say about this guy at this point? He’s inarguably the best player in the world, and he’s probably, at the age of 28, the best player in the history of the game. But you knew that already. The 2015-16 season was statistically his worst in seven years — he still scored 41 goals in 49 games for Barcelona (all competitions).
At this point, we’re numb to the numbers, though. We’re numb to the goals that leave us without words. We’re numb to the fact that we live on the same planet, at the same time, as someone who can do this … and that’s a truly beautiful gift we’ll never deserve.