While certainly not a fait accompli, it came as little surprise that on Monday, U.S. men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski to his 30-man preliminary roster for the 2014 World Cup. After all, Wondolowski has been the most prolific scorer on the U.S. squad over the past 12 months, scoring nine goals in his last 10 appearances.
"We believe that Wondo absolutely deserves to be part of the 30-man roster," said Klinsmann on a media teleconference. "He knows it's a big opportunity and a big chance for him to make his case now in the next three weeks to become part of the 23-man roster."
Wondolowski, who is the Earthquakes current leader in goals the season with five, is joined in the list of forwards by Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Aron Johannsson. A notable absence from the list is current DC United striker Eddie Johnson, who has yet to score this MLS season, but was an instrumental member of the team during the qualifying stages.
It will not be easy for Wondolowski to unseat one of the other favorites on the list of forwards and ensure his inclusion on the 23-man roster. Though a relative newcomer to the team -- he made his first appearance in 2011 as a 28-year old -- Wondolowski has impressed the coaching staff with his tireless work ethic and his stubborn refusal to be counted out. That "never-say-die" attitude, one he takes from and gives to his club team Earthquakes, shold serve him well in his last-chance audition to make the U.S. World Cup squad.
"His personality, he doesn't have to change anything," said Klinsmann. "Every time he comes to the national team environment, he gives you everything he has. He always goes 1000 percent. He knows he's getting evaluated by the coaches on what he's doing day in, day out. And obviously we need to make the decision three weeks from now."
Along with his Earthquakes teammate Clarence Goodson, Wondolowski is not viewed by many to have a chance at securing a starting role for the national team, but his recent performances have certainly elevated his stock. And while Goodson is likely a lock to make the final 23-man roster that will travel to Brazil in June, Wondolowski remains on the bubble. The 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Golden Boot co-winner, who didn't score his first goal for the U.S. until his 10th appearance, will need to impress in the next few weeks to secure his plane ticket.
"He personally doesn't have to do anything different to how he has done things over the last year that we've worked with him," added Klinsmann, "and he has come quite a way. He came from a position in which over a longer stretch he hadn't scored for the national team, to his first goal then, and into more goals during the Gold Cup, and now the last goal he scored against Mexico."
A familiar refrain from his distractors has been that Wondolowski has not performed against the best, that his goals were scored against what have been described as "minnows" and "B teams." However, a look at his prolific scoring in MLS, where Wondolowski led the league in goals for three straight seasons from 2010 to 2012 and has netted 84 goals in his last 150 games, and that argument holds little water, including with the man that matters most.
"He built his own case and he built it stronger and stronger," said Klinsmann. "We're looking forward to working with Wondo because it's always a pleasure to have him in camp. He is a competitor. He is determined. You give him a one percent chance and he wants to make it 100 percent at the end of the day. He will be one of those drivers going into the next couple of weeks."
Drivers are in control of their own destinies, and with his hands on the wheel, Wondolowski will welcome the opportunity to navigate his way to Brazil. The road will not be without its challenges, and much of it will be uphill, but Wondolowski has prepared for this moment his whole professional life. And he knows how to deliver.