Following a second successive MLS scoring title, Chris Wondolowski has been rewarded with a second successive invitation to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January training camp. The San Jose Earthquakes forward was one of 20 players — all but two from the ranks of MLS — that convened yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona to prepare for international matches with Venezuela and Panama later that month.
“Yeah, very exciting,” said Wondolowski when asked about training with the national team. “It’s a huge honor to be called to the team and I am excited to be going.”
After making his debut for the U.S. in 2011 under previous head coach Bob Bradley, Wondolowski went on to earn five caps for the squad, including three appearances in last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage. With his strong 2011 MLS season, Wondolowski made a strong enough impression to be called in by new coach Jürgen Klinsmann for the annual January training camp.
“He called me to formally invite me to go to the camp a couple weeks ago,” shared Wondolowski, “so that was my first contact with him. It was a good talk and I am looking forward to meeting up with him now.”
The Earthquakes superstar forward learned quickly last year that playing at the International level requires an elevated awareness for the game and an increased ability to react to the speed of play. To prepare for the 2012 National Team camp, Wondolowski shared some of what Klinsmann expects of his players.
“I’m going to have to wait until I get there to really find out,” quipped Wondolowski with a laugh. He then turned serious and went into specifics. “He mentioned that he wants us to be sharp and to come to camp in shape, so we can really work on the ball and be ready to take it seriously and go out and win these two games.”
The two matches on the upcoming U.S. National Team schedule are slated for the tail end of the training camp — in Glendale, Arizona against Venezuela on January 21 and away in Panama City against Panama on January 25. The second match is of great interest to Wondolowski, as it was against the same opponent in last year’s Gold Cup that he experienced his most infamous moment while wearing the U.S. badge.
With the team trailing 2-1 late in the match to their Central American competition, Wondolowski missed an open goal from inside the six yard box that would have drawn the Americans level. Instead, team U.S.A. suffered its first ever loss in Gold Cup group play and finished below Panama in the group. Not even a year removed from that match, Wondolowski sees the potential opportunity to face Panama again as a chance for redemption.
“Absolutely, even just this whole call back I am looking at it as motivation for that game,” shared Wondolowski emphatically. “As if getting called in wasn’t motivation enough, I really want to make a mark because the last time I was in there, especially against Panama, I didn’t do my job to its fullest.”
Upon returning to club play with the Earthquakes following the Gold Cup, Wondolowski went through the month of July when his scoring touch was missing. It wasn’t until late in the season that things turned around for the two-time Earthquakes MVP and he catapulted to the top of the MLS scoring chart, drawing level with MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario in the season’s final match. While his confidence eventually returned, the specter of his miss against Panama stays with him.
“To be truthfully honest, it’s bothered me quite a bit, that miss in front of goal,” revealed a candid Wondolowski. “I still replay it in my mind quite often and I would love to make amends, especially if it was against Panama. I am hungry to move on and really make my mark with the national team.”
A second straight January U.S. National Team training camp coming off another memorable MLS season seems a just reward for Wondolowski, and he may very well get a chance at redemption later this month when the U.S. visits Panama. With most of the regular U.S. starters remaining with their European based clubs for this camp, Wondolowski is part of the pool of players that will look to force themselves into consideration for the squad that will begin 2014 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying this summer.
In the meantime, the Earthquakes striker continues to bask in the accolades and rewards that have come his way, at all times with the humbleness that has become his trademark.
“It’s one of those things that in your wildest dreams you hope for,” marveled Wondolowski at the last two years of his career. “It’s a run I really cherish, and another opportunity that I am really looking forward to. I really want to make the most of it and try to do as well as I can, and go in there ready and prepared. All you can do show as well as you can and hope for the best. That’s my plan right now.”
(Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com)