San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski and Los Angeles’ Edson Buddle battled back and forth for Major League Soccer's Golden Boot this season, delighting fans and earning their way on to the league's final three ballot for Most Valuable Player.
But could either of MLS' best forwards make as much of an impact on the US national team as they have on their club teams?
That’s uncertain. However, each will get a chance to demonstrate his worth, presumably later this month in South Africa, if his respective club is out of the playoffs.
While Buddle made the World Cup squad after scoring an astonishing nine goals in his first six matches for the Galaxy, a call would be Wondolowski's first.
The Earthquakes striker has been red-hot, winning the Golden Boot with a goal in his last match of the season, and San Jose reached the postseason because of Wondolowski. US coach Bob Bradley, who is known to favor in-form strikers (see Buddle and Herculez Gomez this past summer), certainly has had his interest piqued by the late-blooming 27-year-old.
At 6-foot-1, Wondolowski possesses the size and strength to succeed as a target man, although he's looked good on the run, moving in tandem with his Quakes teammates. Most of all, he's strong in the air, a necessity for any striker who takes the field for a Stars and Stripes squad that's never seen a cross they didn't like.
[inline_node:322110]But can the Northern Californian handle the speed and pressure of the international game? He's never competed on such a high level.
It's quite a jump from the confines of Buck Shaw Stadium to the lush green field of Cape Town's Greenpoint Stadium. Just ask Buddle, who struggled to find himself in two substitute roles during the World Cup.
Additionally, 27 isn't old, but it's not young, either. Wondolowski needs to be closer to a finished product than someone like Jozy Altidore, who can still take a couple years to mature. If Bradley doesn't like what he sees from the Earthquakes star during a training camp or two, he'll be jettisoned.
Buddle, on the other hand, fought his way back from the brink of national team obscurity. He made his debut in 2003, but didn't see the field for another seven years. Although he netted two against Australia in the Americans’ last warm-up prior to their World Cup date with England, he didn't make an impact during the tournament.
After returning from South Africa, Buddle picked up where he left off, tallying four goals in five matches. He slowed down as the Galaxy encountered a midseason swoon, but has four goals in his last five games, including a ridiculous strike against the Seattle Sounders. Most importantly, he’s finding the back of the net from all angles, using whatever part of his body the situation demands.
And yet, there's clearly a question as to whether he can cut it on the international stage. Buddle's game is similar to Altidore's, but he has looked out of his depth and hasn't shown the ability to score against quality sides.
The US, however, won't play a truly world-class team until possibly meeting Mexico in the final of next summer's Gold Cup. Buddle and Wondolowski might not be the answer against a squad like Brazil or even Algeria, but there's no reason to think they can't be effective against CONCACAF rivals like Jamaica, El Salvador and even Costa Rica and Honduras.
After all, it's not as though Bradley has many other options.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.
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