TORRANCE, Calif. – Chris Wondolowski has been sensational in his past three seasons, scoring 61 goals, earning three Best XI nods, two Golden Boots and last year's MVP award after scoring a record-tying 27 goals for the San Jose Earthquakes.
None of it means a thing internationally, though, and nobody knows that better than Wondolowski, who is doing all he can to show Jurgen Klinsmann he deserves a greater role in the US national team attack.
Wondo, who turns 30 next Monday, has won just eight caps for the US, the most recent in a friendly last June against Canada just before the start of the Americans' 2014 World Cup qualifying slate, and he has never scored for his country.
“I know that I need to continue to grow as a player,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com at the US team hotel. “I know I have some holes in my game. And at this level, if you get a chance, you have to bury it. You don't get second, third, fourth chances. You get one. I definitely need to take advantage of that.”
He's been an expert finisher for the Quakes, whose scheme is designed to create chances for him in the box. Adjusting to how the US wants to play and to the international level is a whole different beast, however, and there are plenty of top MLS forwards who failed to make the jump to national-team regular, including 100-plus goalscorers Taylor Twellman, Jason Kreis and Ante Razov.
Working with Klinsmann, one of the finest strikers of his generation, has certainly helped.
“He says that you have to expect and know you're going to score, and so demand it from yourself and demand the best,” Wondolowski said. “I think that's key. ... I know what I need to do, and I know that I haven't performed up to my capabilities [with the national team]. All you can do is work as hard as you can to get a chance, and when you get a chance, make the most of it.”
So what exactly does he need to do?
“Basically, what he's doing,” Klinsmann said. “I mean, he's giving you 1,000 percent in every training session, he gives everything in the game. The tricky situation for Chris is that on the international level, it's a different style. He fits perfectly into the Earthquakes' way of playing. Many situations that come up in Earthquakes games do not come up in the international level. You maybe don't get those many chances, you don't get those many second balls that the Earthquakes live on.
“He's doing everything right. You tell him always: Keep pushing and keep working hard, which he does. He's a real example for a lot of players. Having him in camp sets the tone, because every training session, he's hungry, he's ready to give everything he has, and this is a lot of inspiration for younger players to show that.”
The competition for playing time is fierce, with European-based forwards Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd getting ample time up top, along with Santos Laguna’s Herculez Gomez and MLS star Landon Donovan, who spends more time in midfield.
“Hopefully, we can give him that time and opportunity to score his goals also in our environment, but he knows the competition is huge,” Klinsmann said. “Once the Europeans are coming in, it is difficult. But we have a lot of admiration for Chris.”