US U-20 and TSV 1860 Munich star Bobby Wood.
John Dorton/ISI

Postcard from Europe: Wood perseveres at 1860

AMSTERDAM — For Bobby Wood, it's been a long and sometimes difficult road from 14-year-old TSV 1860 Munich youth recruit to dressed member of the first team, but he's made it.

The 18-year-old Hawaii native suited up for 1860's win at Osnabrück this past weekend, and now he's looking to continue his upward trend by earning minutes for 1860 and enjoying a strong U-20 World Cup with Thomas Rongen's team.

Don't mistake Wood for a starry-eyed dreamer, though. He intends to accomplish more the same way he got to where he is: optimistic perseverance.

"I'm going to take small steps at a time, just try to get into the first team," Wood told MLSsoccer.com by phone from 1860's training ground. "Hopefully, I'll be able to get some playing time."

Of course, it wouldn't be out of line to suggest he's arrived where he is thanks to his pace. The speedy forward admits he likes to take on players one-on-one, but since graduating to the first team he's had to alter his game by not simply racing past opponents all the time.

"Against the younger players, it was a lot easier to dribble," he said. "Now, you have to be a lot more clever with your movements."

Wood said he also improved his game in front of goal, and this is what's drawing the extra attention; if someone stays after training for extra shooting practice, the safe bet is it's the American.

"I'd like to work on finishing," he said. "It's been my down part as a forward. I'd like to get better on that."

Another adjustment comes from shrugging off snipes from his senior teammates during practice. Lions manager Reiner Maurer has already offered Wood the advice to not let the self-imposed strictness of big-time German training sessions deter him from improving.

"He just said, if the older players say something, just move on from it and don't let it get to your head," Wood said. "I just need to get used to the environment in the first team. If you lose the ball, they react pretty fast. If you make a mistake, the players get upset. Nothing new."

After four years of climbing the 1860 ladder, Wood is more than versed in the character of the German game. In fact, when he first arrived, the other U-15 players at the club were rather formal with him off the field.

"I came here in January 2007, I'd just turned 14," he recalled. "It took a while [to settle here] in the beginning. It was a tough time. I got along with the teammates, but it was a lot different from back at home."

Wood set about learning German, and the effort helped open relations with previously frosty teammates and allowed him to receive all instruction directly from the coaches instead of relying on translated gist.

"The language took me probably a year-and-a-half," Wood said. "Once I learned the language, it helped a lot with everything. There were tough times, but I'm having a nice year now and last year was really good. It's been a long journey, just as in any sport."

The soccer journey continues as the 1860 technical staff has yet to quite ascertain Wood's best position.

"In training, I've been playing up top, but I can also play wide," he said. "I don't think they've really decided [my best use], just anywhere in the attacking area."

Going on the offensive will also be Wood's task when on international duty with the U-20s. He is among a strong group of young attackers set to attempt World Cup qualification in Guatemala this April.

"It's a really good group; we've got good chemistry," he said. "Everyone is friends with each other. We also have really good players, we just have to play better as a team – like any team. We've got big players, we've got technical players, we've got speedy players. I think it's a good mixture."

Lest anyone think he's taken their World Cup invite for granted, Wood admitted this skilled group of young players won't count their chickens before they've hatched.

"The team's just looking to qualify first," he said. "You have to qualify to get to the Cup and there's some pretty good teams, so we're just taking it one step at a time."

It's become a familiar way to go about things for 1860's newest No. 14 shirt. He's been at it like that since he was a 14-year-old kid in a strange land and he likes it that way.

"I made a lot of sacrifices and it's slowly been paying off," Wood said. "Everything's been going great. I can't really complain much – it's all up to me now."