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Jun 19, 2014

Eddie Johnson backs Wondolowski

Chris Wondolowski is looking forward to his opportunity to play in the World Cup should Jurgen Klinsmann call upon him.

If Eddie Johnson were in charge of the United States at the World Cup, Chris Wondolowski would be the man to replace injured striker Jozy Altidore against Portugal.

Johnson, who has 19 goals in 62 appearances for the U.S., was in line to provide depth for Altidore in Brazil, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann passed him over in favor of Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson, who replaced Altidore after his hamstring injury against Ghana.

But Johnson would pick the 31-year-old Wondolowski to start in Altidore's place over Johannsson, 23.

"I think the one, that as far playing with the back to goal, [fitting] in that system in the Jozy role, I have to go with Chris Wondolowski," Johnson told ESPN FC in a phone interview, speaking at a promotion for Bacardi.

"No disrespect to Aron Johannsson, I could him seeing doing really well off the bench as he did last game. But obviously Wondolowski, he's used to playing with his back to goal and he keeps it simple. His movement off the ball is good and he's a hell of a finisher in the box."

Watching the World Cup has been a bittersweet experience for the 30-year-old Johnson. The U.S. finally got its revenge on Ghana, in a 2-1 result that saw the team put past eliminations in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups at the hands of the African side to rest.

Yet, in the match, the team lost Altidore to a concerning hamstring strain which will rule him out for at least the upcoming Portugal match. Johnson was distraught for his fellow teammate, and considering that two forwards play in a similar style, his snub from the team's 30-man roster in early May hurts even more.

"I'm a big fan of Jozy's and I'm very happy with things he's accomplished in a young career. You never wish that upon someone. Especially someone that you're close to, he's like my little brother," he said. "It's a hard thing to watch, and I wish him a speedy recovery. I hope he gets back to full strength because he's important to the team."

Chris Wondolowski would start his first World Cup match at the age of 31 if Eddie Johnson were in charge of the U.S. squad.

Neither Wondolowski or Johannsson play with the bruising targetman style that Altidore or Johnson play with, which is now making his omission from the World Cup squad even more questionable. Johnson admits that he was pretty surprised when he was left off of the team and he still isn't exactly sure why Klinsmann made that call.

"He really couldn't give me a clear answer, he just said that, 'This was one of the hardest decisions I had to make,'" Johnson said. "'Leaving you off the team when you scored so many important goals for us and had a really good Gold Cup, you'd really done well for us.' He said it was the hardest decision out of the players who he'd left off the 30-man roster."

He added, "At the same time, it's knowing that you did everything in your control that you could do despite the coach's decision -- so it's not your fault. At the end of the day, it sucks but I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did everything I could do to be on that team and on the plane to Brazil."

Johnson believes if he was on the roster now, he would have played an important role for the Yanks.

"I think my experience of being on the 2006 team , the youngest guy on the team, I was up and coming," he explained. "But now, I'm at a point of my life from a maturity standpoint where all of the adversity and bumps that have happened along the way has made me a stronger player mentally. I'm at the point where I am the most complete I can be as a soccer player.

"I was really looking forward to doing a lot of great things and playing a major part in our team and doing well in the World Cup. So to not have that opportunity, it sucks."

But as surprised as Johnson was at his own omission from the U.S., he was taken by complete surprise by Klinsmann's decision to cut Landon Donovan.

"For me, that was probably the biggest shock of them all," he said. "Numbers don't lie. If you look at his numbers, and his bio and what he's done for American soccer. ... It's hard for me to believe that a guy like that, even if the coaches didn't see him as a starter, that he couldn't be on the bench and use his experience from playing in the World Cup.

"He's handled it well and everyone knows that he should be there."

Johnson added jokingly,"For him to be left off the team, we've got a pretty damn good team."

But despite some unpopular decisions by Klinsmann on the U.S. roster, Johnson insists that he hopes to work with the coach again in the future. He said his international career is not yet over.

"I'm still interested in playing if he's the coach after the World Cup," Johnson said. "I just want to continue to be consistent, grow and learn in this sport. Be as good as I can be, if my best isn't good enough, then that's when I'll say goodbye."

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