Two weeks ago, in a friendly against South Korea, Chris Wondolowski scored two goals for the United States men's national team, once again sparking the debate about whether or not he should represent the team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Wondolowski's international path over the past few years has been an uneven one. As the leading scorer in Major League Soccer in 2010, 2011 and 2012, it's been difficult for U.S. coaches not to select him for international duty. However, when given the chance for the U.S., Wondo's performances have often left much to be desired.
While he's had some great games, including a hat-trick this summer against Belize in the Gold Cup and a brace four days later against Cuba in the same tournament, he's also struggled when given the chance against better competition.
In fact, all of Wondolowski's eight international goals (over 18 caps) have come against weaker teams who are also fielding their "B" sides. And most USMNT fans still have Wondo's miss against Panama in the 2011 Gold Cup burned into their minds.
Still, Wondo has proved in MLS, and in his goalscoring appearances for the U.S., that he can be a skilled poacher. So what is U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to do?
Klinsmann is likely to bring three or four strikers with the U.S. squad to Brazil this summer. Jozy Altidore, despite his struggles at Sunderland, is a near-lock to make the team. Aron Johannsson, with his 21 goals at AZ Alkmaar this season, also seems to be a surefire pick.
Finally, Eddie Johnson has proved over the past year that he can be an indispensable asset to the U.S. when needed—he also took Wondo's spot in the starting lineup once called in for the knockout rounds in this summer's Gold Cup.
If Klinsmann decides to bring a fourth forward, Wondolowski might have a chance, but the odds are slim. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will likely be included in the midfield pool for the USMNT, but both are comfortable up top as well. Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd and Juan Agudelo are also in the mix.
Before he was injured early in 2013, Gomez was used by Klinsmann as both a forward and an outside midfielder. While playing out wide is not Gomez's natural position, his defensive effort was excellent, something the U.S. could desperately need against Ghana, Portugal and Germany in the group stage.
Boyd is often called up by Klinsmann, despite the fact that he rarely plays in games for the U.S. and he has 12 goals in all competitions this season for Rapid Vienna. Finally, Juan Agudelo has looked good so far for Utrecht in the Eredivisie since his move abroad.
The real question is, is Wondolowski international-class?
At the World Cup, the U.S. will be playing some of the best teams in the world and will likely be pinned back in their own end for long stretches. Wondolowski specializes in poaching, something he wouldn't have much of a chance to do in Brazil. Instead, the U.S. will most likely need to rely on quick counterattacks focused on speed and precision—something Wondolowski is not known for.
It's hard to believe that Altidore, Johannsson, Johnson or the others in the U.S. forward pool could match Wondolowski's 72 MLS goals over the past four seasons. However, picking a side for the international level is as much about choosing players who can elevate their game to another level as it is about taking players who are in good form in their current league.
Wondolowski's MLS feats have no doubt been impressive, but when making his selections at forward, Klinsmann can't afford to offer Wondo a place on the team.
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