Chris Wondolowski scores twice in USA victory over South Korea

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Feb 2nd, 2014
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• USA 2-0 South Korea

One man’s anguish was another man’s opportunity on Saturday, as Chris Wondolowski seized the day against South Korea to enhance his World Cup chances with both his team’s goals in a 2-0 victory, while his rival for what might be the final striker spot, Mike Magee, sat out the game with food poisoning.

You have to wonder what Magee has to do to take the field in a USA shirt. Having clawed his way back into international consideration after a nine year absence, since leaving the 2005 national team camp injured, the Chicago Fire forward and MLS 2013 MVP must have been optimistic that Saturday afternoon’s first friendly of this World Cup year would not only mark his first overdue international appearance, but also represent a great chance for him to stake a claim for a squad place in Brazil, just as previous January team camps had made starters of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron.

The news of his food poisoning on game day seemed like the cruelest of twists for Magee, who had enjoyed a career year last year in forcing his way back into Klinsmann’s thoughts.

When the game began though, in the sunshine of LA Galaxy’s Stub Hub Center where Magee had done much of his good work in recent years, Wondolowski wasted no time in reminding Jurgen Klinsmann of his own credentials, scoring after just four minutes. The San Jose Earthquakes player ducked to nod home at point blank range after a dangerous Graham Zusi ball into the box had been turned goalward by Brad Davis, and only parried as far as the striker on the edge of the six yard box.

In doing so Wondolowski went some distance to answering some of the questions that linger about him as an international striker. True, he had broken his goalless streak at this level in emphatic fashion during last summer’s Gold Cup, but most of his goals came against Concacaf also-rans rather than more significant opposition later in the tournament, and a goal against a fellow World Cup team (albeit a weakened one, consisting, like the USA side, of domestic league squad contenders rather than European-based starters) did his prospects no harm.

Having scored early, the USA spent much of the rest of the first half dealing with problems of their own making, as repeated giveaways gave their opposition chances that the likes of Germany, Ghana and Portugal would doubtless love to pounce on should they recur in Brazil. South Korea were in more forgiving mood — one 18th minute turnover ending with Lee Keun-Ho finding himself in space in the US box only to scoop his shot over the bar.

These chances put scrutiny on the inexperienced center back pairing of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, who have emerged as an unlikely first choice pairing for the national team, alongside the naturalized right back Brad Evans, and for this game at least, Columbus Crew’s Michael Parkhurst at left back.

Parkhurst has been part of the recent reverse-exodus of US national team players that has seen the high-profile likes of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley return to the domestic league from Europe, and has an understanding with new Crew head coach Greg Berhalter that he will be used partly as a left back in the coming months, despite the club’s long term goal of integrating him as a center back. It is Parkhurst’s understanding with Klinsmann that will be of equal significance though, but having been vociferous throughout his managerial reign about players testing themselves in Europe where possible, and despite his struggle to hide his disappointment at the lack of testing opposition for some of his returning stars, the USA head coach has displayed an increasing trust in MLS-based personnel, with that center back pairing being the most high-profile example.

Parkhurst had a solid game, and the defenders around him had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their value as the US found themselves on the back foot for long stretches against South Korea. Kyle Beckerman sat in front of the defense tidily enough, and provided the occasional first time ball to show his vision is one of his most underrated qualities, while fellow deep midfielder Mix Diskerud, was probably a net negative for not doing much wrong, but not doing much to seize control of the game either, as this particular audition might have demanded of him.

Wondolowski meanwhile, did his best with what opportunities came his way, and almost gave Landon Donovan a breakaway second as he sent a ball low across the six yard box that the hometown man was inches from touching home, just before half time.

It was a break in the pattern, as the US continued to creak at the back into the second half, while relying on breaks forward. It was from one of those forays forward that Wondolowski got his second just before the hour, with the impressive Zusi and Donovan combining to set up an inviting low ball into the box that saw Wondolowski pinch between two defenders to slam home.

It was Wondolowski’s last action of the game, as immediately the Klinsmann substitutions began — Eddie Johnson replaced the goalscorer while Clarence Goodson came on for Besler, and Benny Feilhaber replaced Diskerud.

With time running out there were cameos for what may be the ghosts of World Cups future, as DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil took to the field to put down personal markers for their own progress. For those two, long international futures may be in front of them. For Mike Magee’s sake, let’s hope his hasn’t passed.

USA: Nick Rimando; Michael Parkhurst, Matt Besler (Clarence Goodson, 62), Omar Gonzalez, Brad Evans; Mix Diskerud (Benny Feilhaber, 62), Kyle Beckerman; Brad Davis (Luis Gil, 75), Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi (Eric Alexander, 82); Chris Wondolowski (Eddie Johnson, 62)

South Korea: Jung Sung-Ryong; Lee Yong, Kim Kee-Hee, Ju-Young, Kim Jin-Su (Kim Tae-Hwan, 78); Kim, Park Jong-Woo, Lee Ho (Lee Myung-Joo, 70), Ko Yo-Han; Kim Shin-Wook, Lee Keun-Ho (Lee Seung-Ki, 69)

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