United States manager Jürgen Klinsmann possessed one last chance to evaluate potential reserves for the trip to Brazil before naming his squad for the World Cup training camp next month.
He did not waste it.
Klinsmann named Brad Davis and Chris Wondolowski in his starting XI for the 2-2 draw with Mexico on Wednesday night. The decision to name both players – two MLS standouts poised firmly on the precarious edge of the squad and primed to push their way into it – from the outset provided them with one last opportunity to prove their worth.
They did not waste it, either.
Wondolowski drew top billing for his active, incisive shift alongside Clint Dempsey in the revamped 4-4-2 setup. The veteran poacher operated quickly and efficiently in tight spaces and pestered the Mexican defense constantly during the opening half. His movement created opportunities for himself and other and ultimately yielded a trademark goal before the half-hour.
The entire sequence highlighted the potential utility of employing Wondolowski as a late-game sub. Tony Beltran served a cross from the right. Michael Bradley beat his marker to the near post. And Wondolowski – given only a modest amount of time to react – pounced on his opportunity by eluding his marker and sweeping home.
Davis did not cap his effective display with a similar punctuation mark, but his deft work on the left facilitated the switch to the diamond midfield. The revamped setup highlighted Davis’ ability to drift into the middle (a habit nurtured with Houston, to be sure) to link up and then float back outside to provide width.
The natural variation in those movements – tucking inside at opportune times to create four-versus-three scenarios against Mexico’s midfield trio, releasing to provide width to restrict the wingbacks at most other points – made Davis a useful component in the first-half blitz. His precise work in possession (33 of 39 passes completed, per Opta statistics) further accentuated the positives in his tactical performance, while his dangerous free kick won the corner that eventually yielded Bradley’s opener.
By cobbling together commendable performances against Mexico, Davis and Wondolowski bolstered their causes at the best possible time. Their strengths and weaknesses are well known to Klinsmann at this stage. How they can aid the squad in a World Cup setting remains decidedly less clear.
Their ability to submit these sorts of showings against a good opponent and play such an integral part in the impressive first-half performance strengthens their hand. Davis can highlight his positional and tactical acumen as a potential late-match substitute, while Wondolowski can point to his production in front of goal and his usefulness in a two-striker setup. Now it is up to Klinsmann to decide whether their cases are now strong enough to warrant inclusion or whether he should look elsewhere to fill the few remaining vacancies in his squad.