SANDY, Utah – Just 12 caps into his international career and two games into the Gold Cup, and Chris Wondolowski is already breaking records.
Coming off the back of a hat trick in the United States’ Gold Cup opener against Belize on Tuesday, the San Jose Earthquakes star hit a pair of goals of the bench in the USA’s 4-1 win over Cuba on Saturday afternoon, in the process breaking the record for goals scored by an American player in a single Gold Cup tournament.
And now that he’s started to match his torrid MLS form (66 regular season goals since the start of 2010) on the international level, does Wondolowski feel he’s playing the best soccer of his career?
“Yeah, definitely. I think I’m very confident in my play and I think just even getting the goals is so huge,” Wondolowski told reporters after the game. “I’m feeling more confident in my passing and in my touch and things like that where it’s really helping me, and it’s really raising my leveI,”
It’s been a marked turn for the 30-year-old who failed to endear himself to the US fanbase with a series of misses at the 2011 Gold Cup and had failed to find the net for the US since his January 2011 international debut, prior to his tally against Guatemala in a tune-up against Guatemala on July 5.
“He’s been wonderful,” said US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “It’s a joy to see him every day in training and getting his goals that he was waiting for such a long time for, and now they’re coming. It’s not only that he has the instinct to be where the ball will be, it’s also the runs that he makes to open things up, open up channels for the other guys.”
Despite his earlier hat-trick against Belize, though, Wondolowski did not get the start against Cuba, with Klinsmann instead opting to start Herculez Gomez alongside Landon Donovan up top.
“He was obviously disappointed when I told him he was not going to start right away, but I told him, 'You’ve got to keep your goals for the second half,’” Klinsmann said, smiling.
Wondolowski did just that after replacing Gomez in the 56th minute. Ten minutes later, he found himself on the end of a Kyle Beckerman cross, making a near post run before flicking the ball past Cuba goalkeeper Odelin Molina with the outside of his foot to give the US a two-goal lead and a measure of relief.
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It’s the second time in tournament Beckerman has connected with the man who has so often tormented his club team, Real Salt Lake, in Western Conference play, and Beckerman was happy to see Wondolowski score for his team, rather than against it.
“It’s real nice, he’s something else, man,” Beckerman told reporters after the game. "He’s quite a goalscorer and when he gets on these runs he can do some serious damage.”
Wondolowski added his second five minutes later, cleaning up after some nice work by Edgar Castillo in the area, giving him a US record and time to look forward to a much tougher test when the US take on Costa Rica on Tuesday.