SAN JOSE, Calif. – It could well have been any day of the MLS season for Chris Wondolowski, who donned his training top and hit the field at Avaya Stadium for another practice. The only difference from the myriad number of times he’s done it before?
The color of his shirt.
On Wednesday, Wondolowski swapped San Jose Earthquakes blue for the US national team’s red as he and 22 other players continued their preparations for the USMNT’s Copa América opener on Friday evening against Colombia, just up the road at Levi’s Stadium (9:30 pm ET, FS1).
“It’s definitely a little bit different,” he quipped to reporters ahead of the USMNT’s training session on Tuesday evening. “But I’m enjoying it and I’m glad to be out here.”
The man known as ‘Wondo’ is, of course, always glad to be part of the national team setup, especially given his improbable rise from a Division II college player and Supplemental Draft pick who couldn’t scratch a starting lineup for his first five MLS seasons to one of the most ruthless goalscorers in the history of the league.
Whether or not Wondolowski will see action in front of his hometown crowd on Friday night is another question entirely, especially given the team’s newfound attacking verve, powered in large part by exciting new arrivals like Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe and Bobby Wood.
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann naturally deflected the question of whether or not Wondolowski would get the start against Colombia, though if the USMNT’s recent friendlies are any indication, it’s unlikely he’ll be on the field from the opening whistle. Wondolowski did not see the field in a 1-0 win over Ecuador on Wednesday and played 17 minutes as a substitute in a 4-0 win over Bolivia on Saturday.
Regardless of whether he plays or not, Klinsmann was as bubbly as ever when discussing Wondolowski’s role on the national team with the reporters who cover him day in, day out.
“Wondo has always been an outstanding character and a very important piece on our national team,” Klinsmann enthused. “Having him around, if he’s coming off the bench, if he’s starting is big for us because the energy that he brings to the team is just tremendous.
The 33-year-old Wondolowski has now been a part of the national team picture for five years and is in his 12th MLS season, meaning that his role as a mentor has only grown, even if he isn’t always the most vocal guy on the field when it comes to advising some of the team’s younger players.
“I lead more by actions than I do necessarily vocally,” he explained. “Whether it’s at practice or anything like that, I try to do that and just talk to the guys. If I’m watching the game and not starting but if I see something, at halftime I try to point stuff out to some of the guys.”
That looks like it will be the case on Friday night, barring a surprise decision from Klinsmann when he sets out his team sheet. If he does come on, though, will he be nervous as he looks to delight the local crowd and gain some measure of redemption after his infamous miss against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup and a poor team showing at the 2015 Gold Cup?
“It’s kind of funny,” he smiled. “It’s one of those things where, when you step out there on the field it’s just another socce gamer, 11-v-11 and you just have to rely on the things that you’ve always done and it’s more excitement than anything, it’s no real nerves.”
In other words, it’ll be the same old Wondo.