Measured decision leads Bobby Wood to success at Union Berlin

In the apex of a wild year, Bobby Wood calmed himself down enough to think about his future. He announced his arrival as a force with the United States men’s national team by scoring the winning goals against Netherlands and Germany during a magical six-day stretch in June. Those indelible moments changed the landscape for him irrevocably. He needed to step away and consider his next step.

Wood contemplated his options carefully. He knew his time at 1860 Munich was over. He knew his loan spell with Erzgebirge Aue ended with Aue headed to the 3.Bundesliga. He knew he eventually wanted to establish himself as a first-team player in the Bundesliga. Those realities framed the landscape as he sought out the advice of United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann as he pondered his next move and underscored his own desire for regular first-team appearances in the process.

Those motivations led him to sign for 2.Bundesliga side Union Berlin in July. The move between second-division clubs proved a far cry from the heights in Amsterdam and Cologne, but it supplied everything he needed and more. The 23-year-old found himself in a place where the manager believed him, where the club needed him to score goals and where he could finally entrench himself as a regular starter at the club level.

“You learn a lot,” Wood told FOX Soccer in a phone interview from Berlin this week. “Fitness-wise, I’d never felt this fit before. Mentally, you learn how to prepare yourself week in and week out. I think that was a big part of what I learned. You know how to get yourself going, even if it’s not going well. That’s the biggest part for me: The mental part of the game. To be able to perform and to be consistent, you learn it week-in and week-out.”

The cadence is working out for Wood so far. He earned a spot in the starting XI during preseason and justified his continued inclusion by providing a regular source of goals. His return of eight goals in 20 matches — including the 86th minute equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Kaiserslautern last weekend — leads the mid-table side.

Wood credits the guidance of his manager and the frequency of his appearances (he is one of two Union Berlin players to feature in every match) for his productivity over the course of the campaign.

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“I think I’ve missed some opportunities as well, but my coach right now, Sascha Lewandowski, is a great guy,” Wood said. “I feel comfortable with him. I learn every day from the tips he’s giving me. I’m grateful for that.”

The base in Berlin provides a firm foundation to fuel his national team ambitions. Wood continues to carve out a role as a match-altering substitute capable of delivering in big spots. Every single one of his international goals — the two in Europe, plus the late equalizer to force extra time in the CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico in October and the first goal of World Cup qualifying against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November — arrived in a timely spot.

The onus now falls on him to entrench himself as a player capable of featuring from the outset and increasing his role within the side. It is a complex task given Jozy Altidore’s continued prominence, plus the potential return of Clint Dempsey and the competition provided by Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes.

“The striker pool is pretty strong with the national team right now,” Wood said. “There are a lot of young guys coming up, but it’s my job to put my name in there and show that I can give the coach another option. I’ve shown that I can be there and help the team as well.”

At this point, the next target is a place in the squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala next month. Klinsmann is likely to name a primarily foreign-based squad for those matches (he noted the timing issues created by the start of the MLS season in a Q&A with U.S. Soccer this week). Wood presents a strong case to retain his place in the squad, but he remains intently focused on his obligations with Union Berlin for now as his club aims to pull away from the 2.Bundesliga relegation zone.

“I’m just trying to take it step-by-step right now,” Wood said. “The March games are in a month. I’m trying to concentrate on Union Berlin right now and score as much as possible. I’m just trying to keep the consistency going. Obviously, with the World Cup qualifier coming up in March, I want to be there. It’s an honor. I just have to show that I deserve it and, hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity. June (Copa América Centenario) is a big thing, too. That’s the big goal: to be there.”

It is one of a series of objectives still ahead for the happy-go-lucky Hawaiian. Wood revealed in a Facebook Q&A this week that he nearly quit the game five years ago as he recovered from knee surgery with 1860, but he persisted to reap the benefits of his progress now.

There are already achievements in hand after his flair for the dramatic last year, but his move to Berlin is the bedrock for further growth for club and country. Wood credits his new surroundings for his development and his improvement over the past few months.

“The whole team wants to be in a better position in the table, but, for me personally, I’m happy with my decision,” Wood said. “I have had this chance to be playing this whole season. I’ve been healthy. I’ve been given all of these opportunities to play week-in and week-out. That was my goal coming here to have that. It’s a good first step for me in my career.”

There are others ahead for him in the months and the years ahead. For now, his attention remains on the task at hand in Berlin and his continued pursuit of the objectives brought into focus last year.