The US Men’s National Team kicked off their Gold Cup campaign on a high note as they cruised past Belize in a 6-1 victory. This was Belize’s first ever appearance in an international tournament, and their roster features only two professional players. The US dominated every aspect of the match while carrying an overall 73% possession of the ball, and Belize, who are undoubtedly the underdogs of this year’s Gold Cup, could not do anything about it.
Chris Wondolowski took the field on a slightly embarrassing note as his name was misspelled with and extra W, but he did not fail to impress the crowd in their Gold Cup opener. The San Jose Earthquakes striker shined as he completed a first-half hat trick in the the USMNT’s first international meeting with the Central American nation.
Despite massive success in Major League Soccer and numerous goals, Wondolowski has not been able to maintain this impressive form at the international level. The 30 year-old striker has not scored in his nine international matches prior to this summer, but in his last two games, Wondolowski scored 4 goals, his first ever coming against Guatemala. Although Belize is not considered significant opposition, Wondolowski must continue this run of form if he intends to convince US fans that he is worthy of maintaining a spot in the A-team.
Meanwhile, Landon Donovan had another solid performance and scored a goal himself to bring his international tally up to 50 goals. Picking up two assists as well, Donovan is now the first player to have scored 50 goals and assisted 50 goals for the USMNT. After a five-month break, Landon Donovan returned to playing full time with a bang as he scored a brace in the US’ 6-0 thrashing of Guatemala. Donovan was a key playmaker and provided vital passes and through balls all throughout their game against Belize as well, and nothing could be said against the American soccer legend.
Ian Gaynair was the only player to score for Belize during the match, finding the back of the net with a header after an accurate cross from Elroy Smith. Although it did practically nothing for the Belize, who were down 3-1 soon after the goal, it still caught the US by surprise.
Chris Wondolowski opened the scoring as he kicked in a rebound off of Belize goalkeeper Shane Orio. The goalkeeper punched out a header, which landed straight at Wondolowski’s feet and made no mistake as he knocked it straight into the net.
The American attack continued testing the Belizian goal, and Orio managed a dramatic save of Joe Corona’s screamer, but the goalkeeper failed to prevent another goal as Wondolowski scored his second of the match. The prolific striker caught a long pass forward from Kyle Beckerman with a header that flew past the keeper and into the goal on the 36th minute.
Although Belize was struggling both offensively and defensively, they did managed to score on the 39th minute to make it 2-1. Defender Ian Gaynair, who was virtually unmarked by the American defense, caught a cross and headed the ball into the net to award Belize their only goal of the match.
Wondolowski finally completed his hat trick with a very similar header on the 41st minute. Defender Michael Parkhurst ran down the right wing and delivered an accurate cross to the striker, who calmly headed it in to make the score 3-1, all with his name misspelled on his jersey.
As the second half began, Holden came on for Beckerman to add even more flare to the US attack, and it certainly worked as Holden scored another to widen the goal-margin to three on the 58th minute. Landon Donovan caught the cross with a header toward the sub, who fired it in from a close range. This marked Holden’s 3rd ever international goal and Donovan’s 50th assist for the US.
Even with a remarkable 4-1 lead, the US continued pressuring the Belizian defense and shooting from every chance they got, and defender Michael Orozco finally converted one of those attempts into another goal. Landon Donovan sent in a free kick from just outside the box that curled in to meet Orozco, who made no mistake and headed it in to the left of the goalkeeper.
Just five minutes later, a Belizian defender handled the ball in the box to give the US a penalty kick and an easy opportunity to score. Landon Donovan stepped up to take the penalty and converted it, slotting it into the bottom right corner as the goalkeeper dove to the left. Donovan, Holden, and Wondolowski all had chances to make it score more for the US in the remainder of the match, but none were successful. After the match, Landon Donovan stated:
“The crowd was great, the energy was great, I thought we started really well. A little disappointed to give up a goal, but I think it was a great night for us, a great night for the fans and a good start for the tournament.”
Chris Wondolowski, whose shirt read “Wondowlowski,” was also happy with their performance:
“It’s just great to get the start, especially in front of some great fans, and they provide such an atmosphere that makes it exciting and it makes you want to go out there and play.”
Taking into account the difference in FIFA Rankings between the two teams - US (22) & Belize (130) - the result was not surprising, although the underdogs fought well and even scored a goal in their first international tournament appearance. Much credit can go to Belize’s Shane Orio for making multiple crucial saves and preventing the scoreline from being even worse than it already was.
Earlier on Tuesday, Costa Rica played Cuba in Group C as well, which ended in a 3-0 win for Costa Rica with a brace from Michael Barrantes and another goal from Jairo Arrieta. The US sit atop Group C with three points, just ahead of Costa Rica, who also have three points, on goal difference. Meanwhile, Belize, who suffered the worse of the two defeats, sit in last with zero points, while Cuba sit in 3rd, also with no points.
The 2nd set of Group C matches will see these four teams travel to Salt Lake City on Saturday, where the US will take on Cuba while Belize will face Costa Rica.