SAN JOSE, Calif. — With only three forwards at his disposal for two crucial World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena reached out to veteran striker Chris Wondolowski to bolster his roster. The active leader in goals scored in Major League Soccer with 122 joins the team immediately ahead of Friday’s big game at Avaya Stadium, home of his club team, the San Jose Earthquakes.
“Yeah, the commute was great,” he quipped before getting serious. “I’m so excited. This is such an honor, especially on this platform, when the game means so much. I am excited to be here, and I am looking forward to this opportunity.”
Wondolowski, who most recently was called up to the national team for its annual January camp, joins Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Jordan Morris as forwards on the 26 man roster. Striker Bobby Wood was originally selected by Arena, but he had to withdraw after suffering a back injury playing for his club team Hamburg last weekend. All four forwards for the USA — as part of a 19 player contingent — hail from MLS.
“Bruce is going to be bring in the best guys,” said Wondolowski. “MLS is continuing to grow as a league, and bringing in top American players as well. It is inevitable that there will be more MLS guys, but having said that, I believe Bruce is going to continue to call in guys that he feels give us the best team.”
Wondolowski’s addition to the squad sees him join fellow Earthquakes teammate David Bingham, another replacement to the roster for back-up goalkeeper Brad Guzan, as the two hope to see time on their home pitch at Avaya Stadium against Honduras this Friday, kickoff at 7:30 p.m. The Quakes duo were the last two players to step off the field following Tuesday’s training session, and Wondolowski has been providing his insights as to what to expect when playing at Avaya.
“I love it here,” said Wondolowski. “They’ve been asking me about the field, the atmosphere, and I don’t have enough adjectives to tell them how great it is. The presence that the crowd provides throughout the game will lift you. We have an amazing pitch, amazing fans, and hopefully that will help us get three points.”
Since his first selection in 2011 following his 2010 MLS MVP season in which he scored a league-record 27 goals, Wondolowski has made 35 appearances for the U.S. national team. He has scored 11 goals in that time, including a hat-trick against Belize during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and played in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. At 34 years old, Wondolowski may be nearing the end of his international career, but the Earthquakes forward is never one to quit on himself or his teammates, and he approaches the opportunity to wear the crest of the USA with great appreciation.
“To represent your country is the ultimate pinnacle of achievement, especially for a soccer player,” said Wondolowski. “And to be selected for a World Cup qualifier in your home town, I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. I’m very excited, and I am honored to be a part of such a big game.
Wondolowski’s first USMNT stint came under the guidance of Bob Bradley, who coached the team through the 2011 Gold Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann was next, and Wondolowski did very well under the German’s tutelage. Arena took over the team last November following two disappointing losses to open the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, and Wondolowski spent the entirety of this January’s national team camp with the former LA Galaxy coach, absorbing the urgency that the U.S. has to get results in this week’s qualifiers.
“It’s not necessarily the place we want to be,” said Wondolowski, “but it is an exciting place for U.S. Soccer right now. We have two meaningful games in meaningful places, so hopefully we can continue to do well.”
Whether or not he earns minutes for the USA this Friday against Honduras or next Tuesday at Panama, Wondolowski is set to enjoy the opportunity to represent his country. Arena is likely to employ a one forward system with Altidore at the top of the formation, but Wondo does provide an option off the bench. Just his presence at training will help push his teammates, as the Quakes dynamo works tirelessly on and off the ball. He has no plans to adjust his approach as Friday’s game approaches.
“Do what I have been,” said Wondolowski. “I don’t need to change anything. I’ll try to do everything I can, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench — even handing out water — whatever needs to be done, I’ll make sure to do my part.”
U.S. Men’s National Team Roster (updated March 21)
GOALKEEPERS: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany) Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/Englans), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/Mexico), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Tim Ream (Fulham/England), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/Canada), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/Germany).
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/Canada), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).