Chris Wondolowski lifts U.S. to victory
CARSON, Calif. -- Chris Wondolowski is pretty sure his only chance to make the U.S. World Cup roster is to keep creating offense at every opportunity.
When he got a chance to start on Saturday, Wondo jumped all over it.
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Wondolowski scored two goals in the United States' 2-0 victory over South Korea in its first friendly of the World Cup year.
The San Jose Earthquakes striker strengthened his case for Brazil with his sixth and seventh goals in his last eight appearances for the U.S. team, which was missing several top players. Wondolowski headed home a rebound in the fourth minute and struck again on a short shot in the 60th minute, capitalizing on two broken plays for another big day in his late-blooming international career.
"My mind frame doesn't change," said the 31-year-old Wondolowski, who got his first call to the U.S. camp just over three years ago. "Any time I get this wonderful opportunity to represent my country, I'm going to try to make the most of it. That's always been my mind frame since Day One, and that's what it's going to be until the last."
Despite a few hair-raising moments on defense, the Americans' patchwork lineup handled South Korea's offensive pressure while winning its 13th straight home match, thrilling a flag-waving sellout crowd at StubHub Center.
After winning 16 games and the Gold Cup title in 2013 during the most successful year in team history, the Americans began World Cup preparations with a 2½-week training camp in Brazil last month before a week in Southern California.
"The guys showed a lot of quality, a lot of effort," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
Several key U.S. players were not in camp while busy with their European club teams, including captain Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore and goalkeeper Tim Howard. Michael Bradley also isn't in town while getting settled in at Toronto FC.
Klinsmann remains encouraging about Wondolowski's chances of getting to Brazil while also affirming Altidore's spot atop the U.S. lineup. Altidore, the team's co-leader in goals last year, is having a difficult season at Sunderland.
"Wondo is a wonderful example of (what happens) if you are committed, if you're hungry, if you give everything you have over a long period of time," Klinsmann said. "Sooner or later, you're going to get rewarded for it. It's nice to see a player like him is still hungry."
Eddie Johnson replaced Wondolowski after the second goal, and U.S. career scoring leader Landon Donovan had a quiet, solid game in midfield.
Nick Rimando improved to 10-0 in his national team career with the shutout, including a nice save in the final seconds of injury time.
South Korea also was missing several key players during its North American swing. The team was coached by Hong Myung-bo, a former Los Angeles Galaxy defender.
"We were in a very difficult situation, but I'm happy with our players," he said through a translator. "They did their best."
The Americans scored before much of the California crowd had even settled into its seats. Graham Zusi made a looping cross to Brad Davis, whose shot was stopped before Wondolowski headed it home.
The South Koreans maintained consistent offensive pressure, forcing turnovers and scrambles by the U.S. defense. In the 43rd minute, a sliding Donovan barely missed converting a low pass from Wondolowski.
"We wanted to take this opportunity in a friendly to be confident and try to play up," Donovan said. "We could go to Brazil and sit back three games for 90 minutes and pray for results, but that's not how we're going to progress as a soccer nation, so we're going to go with confidence."
The Americans looked sharper after halftime, and Wondolowski doubled their lead after a sequence begun by Zusi. Wondolowski beat two defenders to the ball for a quick shot.
"It's always good to be on the end of those, but I thought it was really good buildup on both goals," Wondolowski said.
Donovan and fellow Los Angeles Galaxy star Omar Gonzalez played the entire match for Klinsmann. Mike Magee, the MLS goal-scoring star who hadn't suited up for the national team in nine years, missed a golden opportunity to play in front of his former home crowd when he fell ill with food poisoning before the game.
The American team is off until the full roster convenes for another exhibition in Ukraine on March 5, its final scheduled friendly before Brazil. The U.S. team also might face Mexico in April.
The U.S. will also complete a three-city tour just before the World Cup, playing in Stanford, Calif., Harrison, N.J., and a site in Florida, sources told ESPNFC.com. The final game will be against Nigeria while opponents for the other two remain undetermined.