With the FIFA World Cup less than 24 hours away, the eyes of the world will descend onto Brazil to watch and cheer thirty two of the world’s best soccer teams as they compete for soccer’s most coveted prize. There is no other sporting spectacle quite like the World Cup, a monumental event that draws the eyes and hearts of people from all walks of life, from all corners of the world. As dreams are either realized are ruthlessly dashed over the ensuing month, there are plenty of captivating story lines already causing soccer enthusiasts to salivate. Will the host nation, Brazil, excel under enormous pressure and add an unprecedented sixth star to their crest? Can Spain, the defending champions, cement their legacy as the greatest team ever and win a fourth consecutive major title? Will Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who at 26 has already laid his claim as one of the game’s most exhilarating talents, finally silence critics at home and abroad by hoisting the ultimate verdict; the same 18 carats of gold once elevated by the legendary Diego Maradona.
And yet in the backdrop of these colossal questions, lie smaller but still intriguing questions involving two athletes who have applied their trade wonderfully in the Bay Area: Chris Wondolowski and Victor Bernardez of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Both Wondo and Muma, as they are affectionately called by Quakes fans and die hard domestic fans alike, face a massive task in exiting their respective groups. And with MLS on a two week break for the World Cup, Earthquakes fans will watch without distraction, two of their team’s shining stars with devout support and belief that they can be the catalyst for international wonder.
Wondolowki who is a Bay Area native, will of course dawn the stars and stripes for the United States. Jurgen Klinsmann, USA’s coach and former World Cup Champions himself with Germany in 1990, will face his native country along with the American’s fatal World Cup adversary Ghana. And obviously, no one is forgetting the Portuguese who boast the formula 1 race car that is Cristiano Ronaldo, the current Ballon D’Or winner and a man who can turn a match on it’s head in an instant. Making the 23 man squad for the USA was the dream for Wondolowski and the Earthquakes as a whole, now the target man needs to deliver.
Although he lit the CONCACAF Gold Cup alight and truly impressed during the friendlies prior to the send off series, the veteran striker will be facing talent he has never truly competed against. However, the virtues that have made Wondolowski a hero for the club can propel him from novelty to fan favorite for the United States. As Klinsmann explained in his selection, Wondolowski worked his tail off to make the national team. With Jozy Altidore the preferred striker for the USA, Wondolowski’s appearance in Brazil would like be off the bench, but hopefully he assumes the role of a super sub. Time and time again, he has shown MLS spectators that he has a knack for goal and a habit for getting in the right areas. He is not as elusive as Germany’s Thomas Muller in this regard, but he is extremely scrappy and will without a doubt, fully commit himself for however many minutes he may garner. He will of course need to impose himself against dynamic physical center backs such as Pert Mertesacker of Germany and Portugal’s Pepe. Fortunately for the USA, Wondowloski would most likely come in with fresh legs and brings a certain caveat to his game when he holds up the play. It is not a heralded part of his craft, but Wondolowski knows how to settle and set up that pass, that flick, that can swing momentum. And at six feet, the striker is a viable option from set pieces. If the Americans cannot make it out of the group, it will be disappointing, but not a tragedy given the competition. And yet they certainly have the talent such as Michael Bradley, to provide a shock and if Wondolowski were to score a goal that propels the USA into the knockout stage, those shock waves will reverberate thunderously from Brazil back to the Bay Area.
Unlike Wondolowski, his club colleague Victor Bernardez, will start and play an integral part for his national side. Bernardez, the center back for the Earthquakes is a key figure for Honduras and will need to have the tournament of his life if Los Catrachos wish to navigate their way out of Group E. Besting the likes of Ecuador, Switzerland, and France will be a great challenge, even a Herculean effort by some estimates. With Honduras having 1500/1 odds at wining the World Cup, Bernardez and his compatriots will do a great service for the tiny Central American nation if they provide a better showing than their winless and goalless effort in South Africa four years ago.
Earthquakes fans all know that Bernardez is a great physical presence in defense who also doesn’t shy away from thrusting himself in attack. This can serve as a galvanizing force for Honduras. However Bernardez’s true worth will be revealed in how organized and disciplined his back line is. In their warmup friendly against England, both Brazil bound teams reached a scoreless stalemate. However, Honduras ‘ back line was sliced open on numerous occasions, leaving plenty of question marks ahead of their massive opener in Porto Alegre.
Honduras open the tournament against group favorites France, a team with world class talent that is desperate to rectify their own catastrophic appearance in the previous World Cup. Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud can undoubtedly stretch defenses and purge the net with no remorse. If Honduras manage to pull off an improbable draw, or a miraculous victory against the French, then dreams of advancing may not seem ludicrous. Even so, after the French are the Ecuadorians and the Swiss, two teams that are more than capable of making the round of 16 with flair to spare. Fortunately for Honduras, Bernardez is a towering figure who can repel shots from set pieces and score from them on the other end of the field. The expectations for Honduras are not great, but hopefully they can improve on their last time outing. Bernardez knows how to play physically at the back and be a leader of men, and there is no better stage to showcase these talents than on the world’s biggest stage.
For Wondolowski and Bernardez there is no margin for error in Brazil. Whether a chance is presented to score or defend, both men will need to gobble up their respective opportunities if they wish progress in this beautiful tournament. Earthquakes fans know of their exploits all too well and are already delighted of their invitation to Brazil, now we will have to wait and see if they can send their countrymen and Quakes fans into euphoria.
Honduras plays France on Sunday, June 15th at 12pm pst.
USA faces Ghana on Monday, June 16th at 3pm pst.