LOS ANGELES – One is the reigning Major League Soccer most valuable player and the other should have won the award a year earlier.
One leads the league in scoring over the last three seasons while the other leads the league in assists.
But accolades and gaudy numbers aren’t the only things Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis share.
Because despite their offensive prowess, neither has gotten much of a look from a U.S. national team that has often had trouble scoring.
Wondolowski, 30, invited to his second consecutive winter training camp this year, played only sparingly in three friendlies for the U.S. in 2012.
Davis, 31, hadn’t been in a national team camp in three years before being called up last month.
And though both started in last week’s friendly with Canada, creating a couple of the painfully few scoring opportunities the U.S. got in a scoreless draw, neither is expected to be on the roster for the U.S. team’s World Cup qualifier in Honduras on Wednesday.
But if that’s the bad news here’s the good: With the U.S. facing a crowded 2013 schedule that includes 10 World Cup qualifiers, a handful of friendlies and as many as six games in the Gold Cup in July, Wondolowski and Davis figure to get several more chances to make an impression.
“There’s a lot of opportunities out there,” says Davis, who led the Houston Dynamo to the MLS Cup final the last two seasons. “There’s going to be a lot of different players mixing in and out. This could be my last opportunity to make the most of it. So I really want to get that chance to show that I can make a difference in this group.”
Davis got his first international cap under then-U.S. coach Bruce Arena in 2005, and in his second game he came off the bench to convert the winning penalty kick in the Gold Cup final against Panama. But over the next seven years Davis played just three more games with the national team.
“I just tried to put in on the back burner a little bit and just focus on my club team and really put everything there and not worry if the call is going to come, when the call is going to come, why I wasn’t getting called in,” Davis says.
Ironically it was that focus on MLS that led Davis back to the national team. After blossoming into one of the league’s top playmakers, leading MLS in assists in two of the last four seasons, he could no longer be ignored by U.S. Soccer.
“I’ve really tried to push myself the last four or five years to get better and make this next step,” he says. “This opportunity presented itself. Now it’s my job to go out and make the most of it.”
For Wondolowski, the invitation to play again for the U.S. is a bit more of a give-and-take. He can give some punch to the oft-anemic national team – the U.S. scored one goal or less in 17 of its 22 games under U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann, including last week’s draw with Canada.
And it’s likely that Wondolowski will take away some valuable lessons from Klinsmann, who was one of the world’s best strikers during his playing days.
“I’m just trying to be a sponge and soak up all I can,” says Wondolowski, who tied the MLS single-season record with 27 goals for San Jose last season.
“What he brings day in and day out and where he sets the bar, that’s really been the driving force.”
Klinsmann and Wondolowski come from radically different backgrounds. Klinsmann’s devotion to soccer started during grade school in Germany, where he scored 109 goals in a season and 16 in one game as a 9-year-old before turning pro as a teenager.
Wondolowski, despite being the son of a soccer coach, spread his time and talents out over several sports. He was a good enough middle-distance runner to earn an invitation to UCLA, while as a baseball player he won a PONY World Series championship.
But as a soccer player he was a late bloomer.
In his first six MLS seasons he started just 19 games, scoring seven times. He’s had a league-best 61 goals in the three seasons since and was voted the league’s MVP for 2012. And now, after concluding his second winter training camp under Klinsmann, he finds himself sharing the coach’s 24/7 approach to the game.
“I’m definitely buying into it,” Wondolowski says. “That’s what he wanted last year. It’s our job. It’s definitely fun but I feel people don’t see the other side of it where it is a lot of hard work and it’s not just running around the field.”
Hard work that is finally beginning to pay off for both Davis and Wondolowski. The challenge they face now, though, is erasing the stubborn perception that they are simply excellent MLS players who can’t cut it on the international level. And the only way they can do that is by getting a chance to play at that level - opportunities they figure to get this year.
“They’re here because they’re good,” says Klinsmann, who will announce his roster for the Honduras match on Monday. “It’s the next opportunity to knock at the door. And that’s what (they’re) doing.”
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