Why Chris Wondolowski Shouldn't Be the Odd Man Out for Team USA

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Why Chris Wondolowski Shouldn't Be the Odd Man Out for Team USA
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When United States men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann whittles down the U.S. player pool to his final 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, one player who shouldn't be left off the list is forward Chris Wondolowski.

But surprisingly, for a man who led Major League Soccer in scoring in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Wondolowski is far from a guarantee to make the team.

And there are many reasons for this.

One is a psychological condition known as confirmation bias, probably more common in soccer than any other sport in the world. Confirmation bias is the act, often unconsciously, of only accepting evidence that fits in with our already preconceived notions and dismissing any evidence that contradicts these views.

Because Wondolowski got off to a very slow, and very late, start to his international career, many fans simply assumed he wasn't good enough for the U.S. national team. Wondolowski played his first nine games for the U.S. not scoring in a single match. And the one image that is still burned into many fans' minds is the miss he had against Panama in the 2011 Gold Cup.

Because of this slow start, and his miss in 2011, it became accepted among USMNT fans that while Wondolowski was a top goal scorer in MLS, he would never be productive at the international level.

And any evidence contradicting this belief was largely dismissed.

In the 2012 All-Star game against Chelsea, Wondolowski opened the scoring to put MLS ahead 1-0. After the game, Chelsea defender John Terry said to Wondolowski, "Your movement is incredible" and described defending him as a "nightmare."

But, because the game was an exhibition and Chelsea was in their preseason, no one paid much attention.

Then this summer, in the 2013 Gold Cup, Wondolowski finally got on a roll, scoring in three straight games including a brace in one game and a hat-trick in another. But again, these performances were dismissed because the goals came against inferior CONCACAF teams and because Wondolowski was replaced in the lineup for the semifinal and final by Eddie Johnson once Johnson was called into the team.

But Wondolowski wasn't done pushing for a place on the World Cup team. In February, he scored twice against Korea in a 2-0 win and earlier this month he scored against Mexico in a 2-2 draw. However, detractors still found fault with these performances as neither Korea nor Mexico were fielding their full "A" teams and none of Wondolowski's three goals were highlight-reel quality.

But that's never really been Wondolowski's forte. Most of his goals, at both the club level and now for the U.S. have been "fox in the box"-type goals. Wondolowski is not going to impress anyone with his speed, size or shots from distance. But the fact of the matter is, he scores goals and, no matter how they go in, they count the same on the scoresheet.

Klinsmann is going to have some difficult decisions when finalizing his roster. When it comes to the forward position, depending on how players are categorized, he will likely name Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson and Eddie Johnson as his options up top. And if Klinsmann plans on sticking to the single-striker formation he used during much of World Cup qualifying, he may feel adding a fifth striker to the roster is an unnecessary luxury. Further complicating matters is the outstanding recent form of Terrence Boyd, who is in solid goal-scoring form for Rapid Vienna in the Austrian Bundesliga.

But the fact of the matter is that Chris Wondolowski has proved in recent months that he deserves a place on the roster. He's done everything he's been asked and done it when few believed he could. His solid play for both club and country needs to be rewarded and, in a tournament when chances on goal will be at a premium, Wondolowski's poaching ability could be of use to the team.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran

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