SANDY, Utah — Just days after Chris Wondolowski broke out in a big way against Belize with his first international hat trick, could the US men’s national team striker be left on the bench in favor of Herculez Gomez?
He certainly hopes not.
“It is all about momentum," Wondolowski told reporters Thursday morning before the US training session. “I am feeling very confident right now. There are so many great players around me. It makes my job very easy, so I would love to get back out there.”
For Wondolowski, this is an important time to prove what he can do it on the international level, and he is well aware that this Gold Cup run is an audition of sorts for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
“This whole camp I have tried to make a statement,” said Wondolowski, who also scored his first international goal in a 6-0 victory over Guatemala on July 5. “Anytime you get an opportunity to wear theses colors and to show what you have, it is a huge opportunity and I want to show what I have.”
Should the San Jose forward be relegated back to the bench, it would likely be in favor of Gomez. The Club Tijuana striker, who started over Wondolowski in the Guatemala friendly and sat out the Belize match due to precautionary measures, is back with the team after leaving the US squad during qualifying last month due to a lingering bone bruise in his knee.
Gomez, who was with the US during the World Cup in 2010, realizes the fierce competition not only for playing time in the Gold Cup but Brazil as well.
“Absolutely, it’s the national team,” said Gomez when asked if the Gold Cup served as a tryout of sorts. “It doesn’t matter what camp it is, what game it is, you are trying to win a spot. That goes for the guy with his first cap to the guy with his 130th cap. That’s just the way things are.”
Gomez says his time playing in the Liga MX has been invaluable to help him learn more about what US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is searching for in his players.
“He talks a lot about getting outside your comfort zone," the 2010 World Cup veteran said. "I think American players rarely do that. … Now, being outside of the states and playing abroad for almost four years, you kind of learn what he is talking about, you really get what he means of getting outside your comfort zone.
“You play somewhere else and soccer is a different standard, and I mean that it is more of a way of life. The culture is very different. The pressure is different, so your comfort zone is very different. I think when he pushes you like that, he pushes you for the better, and he wants you to experience those things to make you a better player. I think I’ve gotten a sense of what he’s talking about and I hope we can keep buying in to what he is trying to sell us because I think it’s working.”
While Gomez may step into Wondowloski’s place up top, Klinsmann could also opt to deploy the 31-year-old out on the wing so as to have both of the players on the field at the same time. Gomez has played there previously under Klinsmann and it's something the veteran forward is willing to do now.
“Before I was kind of resisting that role, and now I’m kind of relishing in it,” said Gomez. “I realize that there is value to it. I think I’ve become a better player for it. If Jurgen sees me as a 9 or sees me on the wing, wherever he sees my, I’ve played all along the attacking side in any position, I will try to do my best.
"I understand that just increases my value. It is part of the player I am today. I’d like to keep embracing that because ultimately it will make me a better player.”