By Dylan Butler
PORTLAND, Oregon – When United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted to sit Herculez Gomez as a precaution because of the forward’s history of knee issues and the turf field at JELD-WEN Field, it opened the door for Chris Wondolowski.
The suddenly in-form striker made the most of his CONCACAF Gold Cup opportunity, tallying three goals in a 6-1 Group C win over Belize on Tuesday.
After going scoreless in his first nine international games, the San Jose Earthquakes forward has four goals in his last two outings. The hat-trick against the Central Americans was the first by a U.S. player since Landon Donovan netted four against Cuba in 2003.
“It’s amazing,” Wondolowski said of three-goal haul. “It’s a great tournament and I’m honored to get a couple of goals and just to get a win though. It really set us up for the rest of this tournament.”
Wondolowski, who scored his first national team goal in a 6-0 friendly win over Guatemala in San Diego on Friday, opened and closed his personal goal account in the first half.
“I think Wondo realizes every minute I’m on the field I have an opportunity and I better take it and he did very well,” Klinsmann said.
Landon Donovan also made history in the Rose City. He had a goal and two assists to become the first player in U.S. history to notch 50 career goals and 50 assists. The LA Galaxy standout scored his 52nd career goal from the penalty spot in the 76th minute, four minutes after setting up Michael Orozco’s second career goal for his 51st career assist.
Donovan extended his Gold Cup scoring record to 14 goals, becoming the first player to score in six Gold Cup tournaments.
“I’m very proud of it,” Donovan said of the milestone. “If you pass the ball and guys don’t score, you don’t get the assist. I’m very aware that there are two parts to that. I get a lot of enjoyment out of helping guys score and seeing guys be successful and happy. When it comes in a victory, it’s even more special.”
Donovan’s first assist came on Stuart Holden’s 58th minute goal. The Bolton Wanderers midfielder, who has had a long recovery from a right knee injury, scored his third career goal for the United States. Ironically, all three have come in the Gold Cup. In 2009, he grabbed the opener against Grenada and added a dramatic stoppage-time equalizer in a 2-2 draw against Haiti.
“For me now it’s not a matter of being back, it’s a matter of getting better than that,” Holden said. “I want to be better than I was before. I want to reach new heights that I didn’t before my injury. In terms of being back, that word is overplayed. I’m there. It’s just a matter of fine tuning and taking it to the next level.”