The US Men’s National Team advanced to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in a spectacular Landon Donovan-inspired victory over El Salvador Sunday. A great combination of both defense and offense from the Americans attributed to an overall strong performance in Baltimore to keep their Gold Cup hopes alive. Netting a total of five goals from five different players, this resilient US team look poised to bring home their 5th Gold Cup in history.
The completely US-dominated quarterfinal marks the Americans’ ninth consecutive victory, a remarkable feat, and the result leaves Jurgen Klinsmann with nothing to tell the squad but to continue their great run of form. Being a very young US side, their recent performances have proven that the team has a bright future ahead of them as well.
Landon Donovan played a huge role in the USA’s 5-1 thrashing of El Salvador, racking up a total three assists in addition to scoring a goal of his own. Just as he has demonstrated throughout the tournament, Donovan was a key playmaker throughout the match and did a great job dismantling the Salvadorian defense in front of a sellout crowd, with fairly equal support turning out for both sides.
Donovan, who recently returned from a four-month sabbatical, has been without a doubt one of the United States’ most valuable players in the Gold Cup, assisting or scoring goals in every single match of the tournament. Often regarded as the best American soccer player of all time, Donovan is focused on earning a spot in the US team as they head to Brazil in the 2014 World Cup. With all his recent contributions to the team, he has proven that his presence in Brazil will benefit the team by adding flare to their attack as they take on nations from all around the world. After the match on Sunday, Klinsmann said:
“Landon again proved today how good he is and how he can make a difference. Overall, we see the team clicking more and more, connecting better and better.”
In addition to Donovan, Clarence Goodson, Joe Corona, Eddie Johnson, and Mikkel Diskerud each scored a goal for the United States in the quarterfinal match-up. Alianza FC striker Rodolfo Zelaya was the only player to score for El Salvador, and did so by successfully converting a penalty after being taken down by DaMarcus Beasley inside the box.
The US entered the match with a 15-1-5 record over El Salvador, and were confident they would reach the semifinals of the Gold Cup. With a fairly large margin between the two sides in terms of FIFA Rankings - USA (22) & El Salvador (94) - a US triumph was largely expected, although probably not to the level shown by the scoreline.
In the group stages of the Gold Cup, USA finished Group C with a perfect record, winning all three games against Belize, Cuba, and Costa Rica. Meanwhile, El Salvador had a slightly bigger challenge as they finished third in Group C, but just squeezed into the knockout round due to their one-point advantage over Martinique. El Salvador finished the group with a total of four points from a draw with Trinidad & Tobago, a loss to Honduras, and a victory over Haiti in the final fixture.
As the match kicked-off, the United States began controlling possession from very early on. 22 year-old Mikkel Diskerud had the perfect chance to open the scoring on the 14th minute but fired wide. To the Americans’ delight, they managed to get the lead soon after when defender Clarence Goodson scored just 21 minutes into the match. As the US played out a short corner, Donovan took possession in the box and passed the ball through Mardoqueo Henriquez’ legs to find Goodson, who made absolutely no mistake and scored into the open net. US goalkeeper Nick ndo was crucial in maintaining this lead as he made two big saves soon after, the first of which he somehow kept away with an oustreched leg and the second a dive to his left to just knock the ball past the post.
On the counterattack, Joe Corona doubled the lead for the United States in his second goal in the tournament. Donovan ran down the left wing and made a short pass to San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski, who found Corona running down the middle. Despite the abundance of Salvadorian defenders, Corona remained patient, finally found an open space, and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner from the top of the box, beyond the reach of goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo.
The US looked to be in complete control of the match with a two-goal advantage just 29 minutes in and had multiple chances within the next ten minutes to widen the margin to three. On the 29th minute, Wondolowski sent a through ball to Donovan, who rapidly ran into the box and chipped the ball, only to have the onrushing goalkeeper catch it in his arms. In the minutes following, Michael Parkhurst had an opportunity from close range, which Portillo manage to punch over the goal, while Corona hoped to score another with a powerful header that landed right into the goalkeeper’s arms. Donovan had yet another chance to score from inside the box, but Portillo made a spectacular save that prevented another goal for the time being.
But the USA’s inability to convert any of those chances into goals gave El Salvador a chance to come back from behind. Rodolfo Zelaya ran across the box to find an open space to take a shot on goal, but DaMarcus Beasley sent him flying onto the ground, and the referee made the right decision in awarding El Salvador a penalty kick. Zelaya stepped forward to take the penalty and sent a beautiful Panenka down the goal as Rimando dove to the right, cutting the goal margin to just one with six minutes left in the half.
El Salvador looked to be tilting the tide in their favor early into the second half, constantly pressuring the American defense with numerous great runs by Zelaya. In both of those chances, Zelaya left the US back line defeated but just missed out on an equalizer by firing wide.
Looking to regain their two-goal advantage, Jurgen Klinsmann sent on Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson to replace Wondolowski on the 60th minute. Little did anyone know about just how much of an impact this substitution would make so quickly. Johnson managed to get on the end of a Donovan cross and headed it into the top left corner, just 14 seconds from leaving the bench.
With a comfortable lead for the Americans, they looked to have regained complete control of the match and continued playing primarily in the El Salvador half. Shots from Beckerman and Donovan peppered the goal but the goalkeeper did a great job in keeping both out. Landon Donovan finally added his name to the scoreboard when a header from Johnson flicked the ball in his direction to find the LA Galaxy striker one on one with Portillo, who was found beaten by the striker as the ball rolled into the empty net.
Mikkel Diskerud managed to put the nail in the coffin with another goal to put the United States up 5-1. As Beckerman put the ball back in play inside the box, Donovan made a slightly elevated pass to Diskerud, who scored a beautiful header off the bounce. With yet another assist to his name, Donovan now has an astonishing record of five goals and seven assists in five games since his return to the USMNT.
The United States had yet another astonishing performance despite some pressure to get back into the game in the later stages of the first half. Much credit must go to El Salvador goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo, who despite letting in five goals made numerous crucial saves and helped keep his side in the game.
On Saturday, two sets of quartfinal matches were played, with Panama finishing off Cuba in a 6-1 victory while Raul Jimenez scored a late goal to help Mexico edge Trinidad & Tobago in a 1-0 game. Meanwhile, later into Sunday, Honduras managed a tough 1-0 win over Costa Rica thanks to a 48′ goal from Andy Najar.
The two semifinal matches of the Gold Cup will be contested Wednesday, where the USA while take on Honduras and Panama will play reigning champions Mexico. With a great run a form from the Americans, the United States look to be on their way to their first Gold Cup title since 2007.