STANFORD, Calif. – Chris Wondolowski woke up Wednesday and knew exactly where he was headed for the first day of US national team camp, making the hour-long drive from nearby San Ramon to Stanford University.
Unfortunately for the San Jose Earthquakes star, however, his hometown advantage ends there.
Wondolowski opened head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man camp in one of the most intriguing positional battles on the roster, effectively fighting for the last striker position and quite possibly the final seat on the plane to Brazil.
A quick look at the other forwards in camp or headed there shortly shows that at least two are locks for the final roster – Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore and Seattle Sounders captain Clint Dempsey – while LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan and Dutch pro Aron Johannsson are both highly likely to make the cut early next month.
That leaves Wondolowski and the imposing youngster and Rapid Vienna star Terrence Boyd up for what will likely be the fifth and final position up top, and the two couldn’t bring more different attributes to the table.
The 31-year-old Wondolowski has been a Major League Soccer lifer since 2005, steadily carving out his career as a dogged, opportunistic forward for the Houston Dynamo and, far more successfully in recent years, the Earthquakes. His inclusion in this camp after being such a non-factor on the US scene in 2010 is a testament to what the former small-college star accomplished in relatively short order for the Quakes, and that there’s no more ignoring Wondolowski’s unique set of skills.
“I think I can do a little bit of everything,” Wondolowski, who’s scored double-digit goals each of the past four seasons in San Jose and has five tallies this season, told reporters before Wednesday's USMNT training session. “And I think I can learn from some of the other guys’ strengths and improve my game as well.”
After false starts with the US team in January 2011 and again during that summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Wondolowski epitomizes Klinsmann’s penchant for rewarding players who have done their time in MLS.
There are others in camp in fit that bill – Houston Dynamo winger Brad Davis and Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman are also on the brink of their first World Cup selections – but if Wondolowski makes the final roster it would strike a blow for the blue-collar American striker who’s somehow made good, despite the coveted skills of Dempsey, the power of Altidore or the European pedigree of Johannsson.
“It’s the ultimate dream and the goal,” Wondolowski said. “It would be the top of my career.”
On the other end is the somewhat insouciant Boyd, who greeted reporters Wednesday with a smile and joked about struggling to tolerate the suffocating heat at Stanford Stadium. At 23 years old, he’s part of Klinsmann’s crop of wide-eyed youngsters who might be back in camps like this for years to come, with an entire career left to create after Wondolowski plays his last game.
“I’m going in here with minimum expectations,” said Boyd, who scored 20 goals across all competitions for Rapid Vienna last season. “I’m just working my ass off. I’m just chilling and working on the pitch. If I make the final cut I’ll be happy and if not, I just have to work hard for the next time.”
While Boyd’s time with the USMNT has been less impactful than Wondolowski – he has yet to score in 12 career appearances, with most minutes coming off the bench – he does possess the physical attributes that could make him an asset in Brazil.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Boyd fits the mold of a physical, target forward who could back up Altidore, a spot the US might sorely need most after leaving D.C. United’s Eddie Johnson off the roster.
“I’m a tank up front,” Boyd said. “I’m just coming in with my will, playing aggressive all the time and trying to force defenders to make mistakes. That’s what I’m doing.”
As expected, Klinsmann didn’t tip his hat either way in the conversation on Wednesday, saying only that there are a number of “50-50 battles” that will play out in the camp over the next two weeks.
And that competition is something that both Wondolowski and Boyd will welcome in search of a shot at Brazil.
“Right now,” Boyd said, “everybody’s fighting each other.”