By Dylan Butler
SANDY, Utah – The United States heads to Hartford, Connecticut, on Sunday to prepare for its final group-stage game in CONCACAF Gold Cup. It leaves with good feelings and optimism after a 4-1 win over Cuba the previous day at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Chris Wondolowski, though, might not need the charter flight to get there.
The San Jose Earthquakes forward is flying high following his second-half brace against Cuba. Wondolowski, who scored a hat-trick in the first half of a 6-1 Group C win over Belize on Tuesday, has five Gold Cup goals, the most by a U.S. player in any of the tournament’s 12 editions…and he’s only played two matches.
“I really feel confident in my ability and my play,” Wondolowski said. “Striker is a funny position where sometimes goals don’t come. Anything you hit goes off the post, keepers make saves and sometimes you get a toe on it and it goes in. It’s just one of those things. I want to keep it going.”
The 30-year-old’s remarkable form is more than just scoring goals, according to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“He’s a joy to work with, he’s hungry and he’s working a lot,” he said. “It’s not only that he has the instincts for where the ball will be hopefully in the box, it’s also the runs he makes to open things up and open up some chances for the other guys. It’s great. I think he’s really enjoying the moment.”
Wondolowski is also enjoying sublime service, particularly from Kyle Beckerman, in the team’s first two Gold Cup games. On Saturday, Wondolowski came off the bench to flick a cross from the Real Salt Lake midfielder into the net for a 66th minute insurance goal.
“Both of those crosses he’s whipped in have been just superb,” Wondolowski said. “It makes my job easy where I can just pick out a certain run and just get across my defender.”
Wondolowski added his second goal five minutes from full time, tapping in a chested pass from Edgar Castillo.
“It’s such a huge honor, anytime you put on that jersey it just gives me chills,” Wondolowski said. “I love being a part of it and representing my country. I’m having a blast. I just have a big smile on my face.”
He isn’t the only United States attacking player feeling confident after Saturday’s victory over Cuba. So, too, is Joe Corona, who struck for his first national team goal in the 57th minute.
“It was very special for me, a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time,” Corona said. “I’m happy that now I have that pressure off me. I’ve been wanting to score a goal for the national team for a long time. I’m happy it was today.”
Following a Cuban turnover, Castillo’s cross deflected off intended target Stuart Holden and Cuba’s Alberto Gomez before Corona pounced, placing his 22-meter shot into the side netting for what proved to be the game-winner.
“It makes it even more special,” Corona said.
Corona, who was one of three players in the United States lineup from Liga MX squad Tijuana, is one of six players in U.S. soccer history to have scored his first national team goal in the Gold Cup.
“He learned a lot over the last year, he starts to implement more and more what he learned and also gets more confidence,” Klinsmann said of Corona. “A goal like this today shows you hey, I take the risk, I can try and put that thing in the net. We are very pleased with his development and he’s fun to work with, like Wondo as well.”