Gold Cup: Chris Wondolowski revels in rare Portland adoration after leading USMNT past Belize
PORTLAND, Ore. – Chris Wondolowski might not be used to scoring for the US national team, but he's certainly netted some memorable goals at JELD-WEN Field.
Last season, the San Jose Earthquakes striker scored three times against the Portland Timbers, including a goal on Oct. 27 that tied the Major League Soccer single-season record of 27 goals. But on a warm night Tuesday in the Rose City, Wondolowski was able to celebrate a first-half hat trick with the city’s famous supporters, who for one memorable evening were on hand not to cheer for their club but their country as the US ran out 6-1 winners over Belize.
“Pretty different, usually it’s the opposite of that,” Wondolowksi said of the fans' reaction when he opened the scoring in the 11th minute. “These fans are amazing. They provide such atmosphere that it’s great no matter what.”
Like his record-setting 2012 club season, the 30-year-old, who received his 11th national team cap on Tuesday, can suddenly do no wrong. He scored his first national team goal just four days ago in a tournament warm-up against Guatemala. And he said he knew after his first goal that it would be his night.
“Especially that first one where it kind of falls to you, you’re kind of hoping it’s your day,” he said. “But it’s just great to get the start, especially in front of such great fans. They provide such a great atmosphere, and it makes it exciting.”
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he never saw Wondolowski getting frustrated when the national team goals didn’t come right away. He added that it’s been a satisfying few days for the team’s coaches, as well, seeing Wondolowski’s hard work pay off.
“I think a goalscorer always comes out in the moments where he realizes the extra work will pay off, and I think it pays off for Wondo,” Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference. “He’s so dedicated and such a great attitude. … That’s what a goalscorer is about, always hungry, never kind of had a chance to put away and it makes us coaches happy honestly. And he builds his own case.”
His first goal came with a bit of fortune as Joe Corona's header wasn’t handled cleanly by Belize goalkeeper Shane Orio, falling right to Wondolowski. After scoring, Wondolowski hopped over the advertising barrier and stood, arms outstretched, in front of the crowd at the north end of the stadium, where the Timbers Army normally congregates, to soak in the rare moment of adoration from a Portland fan base.
“I was pretty excited, and to see those guys going crazy, yeah, I just hopped over the wall and wanted to go up there,” he said.
It was all skill for No. 2 when he got on the end of a perfect feed from Kyle Beckerman for a diving header past Orio. Another header off a cross by Michael Parkhurst resulted in the third goal three minutes before halftime.
“It’s just great guys around me,” he said. “All those crosses were amazing, right around my head for those last two. The funny thing as a striker, sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t and hopefully they keep coming.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.