It took U.S. Men’s National Team forward Chris Wondolowski six seasons honing his game in Major League Soccer before earning the opportunity to showcase his talents at the international level, and at each step of the way he had to prove the doubters wrong.
A 29-year-old native of Danville, Calif., “Wondo” has come to embody many of the aspects of the 24/7 professional espoused by U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann – buying into the reengineered system and philosophies that the coach laid out as a blueprint for the program’s development.
His tireless work rate and desire to succeed led him to the league’s Golden Boot award following the 2010 season. As of Monday when he joined training camp in Mexico City, Wondolowski had compiled impressive career numbers including 58 goals in 133 league appearances, with 51 of those goals coming during the last two-and-a-half seasons.
That recent success led to Klinsmann to invite Wondo into a January training camp at the start of 2012, and since that camp the former Chico State Wildcats star has accumulated eight caps for the Men’s National Team.
“Wondolowski is building his case very strongly in MLS,” Klinsmann said. “Every time he came into camp he gave everything he had and he’s trying to get closer to the international level. He keeps working on that and he knows what he’s still missing and what the others provide. He’s fired up every time he comes into camp. It’s wonderful to see.”
For his part, Wondolowski senses that he’s finally becoming more in-tune with playing at the game’s highest level.
“I feel like I’m getting more confident and comfortable with what it takes to become an athlete at this top international level and also the speed of play and my teammates,” said Wondolowski. “There are some amazing guys out there and I just enjoy going out there every day and trying to work hard and play well with them.”
For a striker, there’s no better place to gain wisdom on the road to success at the international level than with a head coach with the skills and experience of a former World Champion striker like Klinsmann.
“I think it’s a great tool to have and I need to utilize it to the best of my ability. He creates such a great atmosphere especially for a striker and the style of play that he wants. He knows what it takes. You can go out there and take everything that he says to heart because he truly knows what it would be like playing that position at this level as well.”
While he has dominated MLS scoring charts of late, Wondolowski has yet to score for the U.S., and admittedly knows there’s always room to improve, even when being called a “nightmare” to mark by England international defender and Chelsea captain John Terry.
“A lot of it comes down to smarts. Every little thing is under the microscope,” Wondolowski said. “Every touch has to be better, every run has to be sharper and every finish has to be that much better. Everyone knows how to play the game and when you take the step to the next level everything has to be that much crisper and that much better.
“It’s just a motivating compliment,” he added about Terry’s words to him during the MLS All-Star game. “You feel a lot of gratitude toward him because he definitely didn’t have to say that and I appreciate him mentioning that, but it’s also one of those things where now I want to make it even better and keep improving on it and keep trying to be the best at it.”
While his recent production at the league level has earned him call-ups to the Men’s National team, the 6-foot-1 forward realizes that to stay a part of the national team picture, he must continuously strive to improve his work in the box and put in the extra effort to be in the right place at the right time. If his chance should come on Wednesday at Estadio Azteca, he’ll need to be ready.
“I think it’s going to be loud and at the same time you have to embrace that and thrive off of it,” Wondolowski said. “That’s something I’m looking forward to and I hope to make the most of it.”