GLASGOW, Scotland – Not that long ago, the lone striker role in Jurgen Klinsmann’s system was perceived as a problem area. Jozy Altidore struggled to adapt to the German’s methods, with few other options offering an alternative.
But as the US national team arrived here to prepare for Friday’s friendly clash against Scotland (3 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMas) and Klinsmann thinks ahead to next summer’s World Cup, he has a problem most never saw coming: too many strikers.
Chris Wondolowski is just one several forwards hoping to make the roster for Brazil, and the San Jose Earthquakes star recognizes the importance of performing well over the next week (the USMNT also faces Austria on Nov. 18).
“I relish the competition between the strikers here,” Wondolowski told reporters as the US trained on Tuesday. “Every time I get called up to the team, it’s an opportunity to learn. Everybody can learn something from everybody else.”
By equaling Roy Lassiter’s MLS all-time scoring record, netting 27 times in the 2012 season, Wondo propelled himself into Klinsmann’s thoughts last year. But it took until this year’s Gold Cup for the Earthquakes star to underline his international credentials, scoring five times in the USA’s opening two games of the tournament.
However, following a disappointing season with San Jose in which his goal tally fell to 11 strikes in league play (he didn't acknowledge until a month ago that he had been playing through a broken foot since early summer), Wondolowski has been knocked down the pecking order through the introduction of Aron Johannsson to the squad and Terrence Boyd’s continued development with Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.
“There’s a lot of different kinds of strikers in this camp,” said Wondolowski. “Everyone has their own style and I like to take a little part of each one and improve my own game with that.
“It was a disappointing year [at San Jose]. To be honest, we dug ourselves too big of a hole at the start of the year. We should’ve made the playoffs, and we got it together at the end, but it was too late,” he added. “As a striker you live on stats, your goalscoring stats. But a lot of other things go into a season besides scoring. I was definitely down [on goals] this season on the season before, but I actually felt I grew as a player and my game has improved.”
Klinsmann has urged his MLS-based players to look for overseas loan stints to stay sharp this winter and Wondo plans to follow suit.
“I am definitely interested in going on loan in the offseason,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I want to do everything I can to give myself a chance to make the World Cup roster, so I will be looking for opportunities.”
Klinsmann has a diverse range of options at his disposal up top, however. While Altidore has so far failed to replicate his AZ Alkmaar and international form at Sunderland, Boyd and Johannsson have strengthened their resumes with impressive starts to the season.
“I don’t know what my chances are [of going to the World Cup],” continued Wondolowski. “But you just have to take it day by day and try to impress, making the best of every opportunity you get. That’s where my mind’s at this week.
“There are a lot of spots up for grabs, but even more players who are competed for those places, especially in my position. There’s a pressure on everyone to impress and make their case for Brazil, but you have to embrace that competition.”
Wondolowski was an unused substitute the last time the US played Scotland, a 5-1 victory for Klinsmann’s side in Jacksonville. However, since then the Scots have changed coach, replacing Craig Levein with Gordon Strachan, and surged up the rankings from 72nd to their current 35th position in under a year.
“I was with the US when we played them in Florida last year,” recalled the Quakes striker. “Obviously that game went very well for us but we know it’s going to be a different team this time. They’ve made progress since then and we expect them to battle harder. They have some very skilled players. If I can play well against a team like this, then hopefully people will notice.”