The United States got their World Cup year off to a winning start on Saturday, defeating South Korea 2-0 at StubHub Center in Carson, Ca., thanks to two goals from Chris Wondolowski. Here are three quick thoughts on the game, which featured an intriguing mix of players on the World Cup roster bubble and those that are looking more and more like locks for a ticket to Brazil.
1) Biggest winner: Wondolowski -- A couple players gave decent-to-good accounts of themselves against South Korea, but perhaps no player took his opportunity with both hands like the man they call "Wondo." While Kyle Beckerman's rangy passing put the South Korean defense on its heels and Graham Zusi's crossing in the final third and all-around energy led directly to both Wondolowski goals, such actions are expected from those players. They're regulars. They proved they can do those same things with the "A" squad on multiple occasions already.
Wondolowski, fairly or not, still has the reputation of being unproven on the international stage. Showing Klinsmann he can bury chances, no matter his level of involvement in the run of play, will certainly work in his favor when it comes time for selecting World Cup squads. In short: he proved he can do exactly what Klinsmann wants him to do.
2) For a month's worth of work, the U.S. could have played better -- The 2-0 win is nice, but the scoreline masks a few worrying aspects of the performance against South Korea. Jurgen Klinsmann's squad had a month to prepare for their opponent, get used to playing with one another, and become acclimated to the day-to-day of a major U.S. camp that doesn't land in the middle of a club season. On top of that, they had the opportunity to do all of that in Brazil, in the same spot where the team will base its operations for the World Cup. As a player, this was about as good of a scenario for a dress rehearsal as you were likely to get.
Yet too often in the game itself there were errors in defensive positioning and attacking shape, and the result was a team that at times looked like it had been hastily assembled instead of carefully selected and prepared. South Korea did well to turn these slip-ups into pressure on the U.S. goal, after which the U.S. would regain the ball, try to build out of the back, then give the ball away again and start the whole cycle over. This pattern repeated itself in multiple iterations throughout the match. A better team, like any of the squads they'll face in Brazil, would have made the U.S. pay.
3) College basketball takes too long to end -- Those that tried to catch the game on ESPN2 will understand the sudden change in subject with this one. Because Clemson and Florida State decided it would be a good idea to take as many timeouts and commit as many fouls as possible to end the game that preceded the U.S. broadcast, soccer fans were left counting the minutes it took for seconds to tick off the clock so the ESPN2 feed could switch from a game that was already decided to a game that was just getting started. That is, to put it mildly, a frustrating wait. Especially if you weren't lucky enough to get the Spanish-language channel UniMas on your cable/satellite package (they were also broadcasting the game). The fact basketball's slow end caused many to miss Wondolowski's first goal in the fourth minute made it even worse.
However, at the risk of turning this into a smarmy "teaching moment," the delay was also a nice reminder of how far the sport has come in terms of popularity and respect paid to it by the television powers-that-be. It really wasn't that long ago when delays exactly like the one that occurred today happened on the regular, and for much more important games -- like World Cup Qualifiers. Saturday's delay was frustrating, at least in part, because it doesn't happen nearly as often these days. And that's pretty cool.